America's Forests—The Climate Change Solution in Our Own Backyard
April 7, 2014 | 9:03 pm CDT

Look outside your window and you will probably see one of America’s most potent climate solutions—that tree or forest right before you.  Roughly 13 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are captured and stored by trees, from urban street trees to family-owned woodlands to vast forested landscapes.  

That nearly 13 percent is equal to the annual emissions from 227 coal-fired power plants!

This week, the forest community and conservation leaders that comprise the Forest-Climate Working Group (FCWG) have delivered new proposals to the White House on ways that the United States can fully tap the power of forests to capture carbon dioxide emissions and protect natural resources, like drinking water, that are under threat from climate change.

Fortunately many of the same steps we can take in the woods to protect and increase emissions reductions also help prepare our forests for a changing climate. Implementing the Forest-Climate Working Group’s recommendations will promote the long-term resilience of America’s forests and the many ecosystem services that they provide.

Here’s a look at today’s recommendations by the numbers, beyond that amazing 13 percent of U.S. emissions captured by forests:

7.57: The approximate number of tons, in billions, of carbon dioxide stored in forests at high risk from development.  
The U.S. Forest Service projects 34 million acres of private forest are at risk of conversion in the coming decades. The new FCWG recommendations offer strategies to slow development of these lands through conservation measures and increased economic opportunities for forest landowners. These 34 million acres store carbon equivalent to emissions from 1,989 coal fired power plants for one year.

17: The percent by which President Obama’s Climate Action Plan aims to reduce carbon emissions by 2020.
There is little chance of meeting the President’s goal if our nation cannot protect current levels of carbon capture in U.S. forests. But we can also take measures to increase carbon capture in forests through increased tree planting, improved forest management, increased wood utilization for building construction, and other measures. FCWG recommendations to advance these activities would increase U.S. forest carbon capture by six percent above current levels—a big step toward the President’s goal.

Below is a summary of the new FCWG recommendations:

1) Provide Sound Data and Science: Tools to help forest owners and public land managers develop climate-informed strategies. Read the full recommendation.

2) Promote Forest Products: New incentives for wood utilization in place of more carbon-intensive alternatives—increasing the 71 million metric tons of CO2 captured each year in U.S. forest products.  Read the full recommendation.

3) Restore and Manage Private Forests: Strategies to leverage tax incentives and existing USDA programs to help private forest owners maintain the nine percent of U.S. carbon emissions captured by private forests, and even increase reductions by another 0.47 percent. Read the full recommendation.

4) Retain Existing Forests: Keep forested lands from being developed with conservation easements and other permanent protection, as well as healthy markets and incentives for private landowners. Read the full recommendation.

5) Develop Landscape-Scale Conservation Approaches: Bring federal, state, and non-governmental partners together to conserve whole forest systems, rather than individual properties. Read the full recommendation.

6) Increase Urban Forests: Urban forests currently store 68.8 million metric tons of CO2 annually—tools to expand these forests by another 100 million trees, storing another 1.6 million metric tons of CO2Read the full recommendation.

Source: American Forest Foundation

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