What is Carbon Forestry?

If you are passionate about the environment, then you may have heard of carbon forestry. Here is everything you need to know about forest carbon.

As concern for global climate change increases, developing methods to improve carbon storage are of the utmost importance.

One option is sequestering carbon through artificial means, such as pumping CO2 into underground mines. However, these solutions tend to be expensive and predominantly theoretical. The most viable and sustainable option turns out to be a natural one.

Forests are by far the best method for carbon sequestering – or long term storage. American forests alone store upwards of 866 million tons of CO2 per year or 16% of US annual emissions. This amount can be increased by utilizing carbon forestry.

Carbon forestry projects aim to alleviate global warming caused by greenhouse gases. They increase the environment’s ability to sequester CO2 by implementing management practices. This allows the environment to naturally offset carbon emissions.
There are a few key concepts necessary for understanding how carbon forestry makes a difference.

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon dioxide is a natural bioproduct. It comes from burning fossil fuels, organic decomposition, and even breathing. As more CO2 enters the atmosphere, it has the potential to drastically affect the global climate.

Plants pull CO2 from the environment and convert it to oxygen through photosynthesis. The amount of carbon they absorb depends on their size and rate of growth.
Young plants or trees experiencing continual growth utilize more carbon. Older trees and plants with slower growth periods absorb less carbon daily but tend to have higher storage capacities.
Trees store carbon in their roots, leaves, and bark until they die. As the tree begins to decay, it releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Similar to growth, decomposition rate depends on the climate and the surrounding environment.

The Carbon Cycle

Carbon dioxide is a natural bioproduct. It comes from burning fossil fuels, organic decomposition, and even breathing. As more CO2 enters the atmosphere, it has the potential to drastically affect the global climate.

Plants pull CO2 from the environment and convert it to oxygen through photosynthesis. The amount of carbon they absorb depends on their size and rate of growth.

Young plants or trees experiencing continual growth utilize more carbon. Older trees and plants with slower growth periods absorb less carbon daily but tend to have higher storage capacities.

Trees store carbon in their roots, leaves, and bark until they die. As the tree begins to decay, it releases stored carbon back into the atmosphere. Similar to growth, decomposition rate depends on the climate and the surrounding environment.

Carbon Sinks and Sources

Forests come in two predominant types: carbon sinks and carbon sources. A carbon sink is a forest that captures more CO2 from the environment than it puts out. In contrast, a carbon source’s CO2 production exceeds its capture.

It might seem obvious that a fast-growing forest with more trees would serve as a better sink. But the permanence, or the length of storage, is also a contributing factor in the sink’s effectiveness.

The Amazon is one of the largest green spaces on the planet. It has the highest amount of plant and animal biodiversity and absorbs copious amounts of CO2 each year. Yet due to high decomposition rates, it also releases a lot of carbon back into the environment. 

In contrast, Alaskan forests have a much slower growth rate and therefore absorb less carbon annually. However, it can take years for a tree to fully decompose, resulting in minimal carbon loss over time.

Both environments have a positive impact on reducing atmospheric CO2. But it could be argued that Alaska actually creates a better sink due to its capacity for long-term carbon storage.

Management Practices

Carbon forestry management practices vary depending on the environment. They can be applied from the tundra to the rainforest and even in and around urban areas.

Maintain Current Forests

Current forest ecosystems can be maintained by avoiding conversion into farmland or other uses. Destroying forests not only releases carbon from the trees but from disturbing the soil as well.

As we know, dead trees release carbon back into the environment. Cutting down aged and dying trees and repurposing them is an excellent solution to natural CO2 breakdown. The trees can be used as construction material and a replacement for plastic in household goods.

Restricting tree harvests to specific times will reduce carbon losses due to soil disturbance. It is best to harvest in winter and avoid the rain, which leads to increased runoff.

Extending Forest Ecosystems

Another carbon forestry practice is creating new ecosystems. A great way to do this is by reforesting areas that have been previously cleared for agricultural use or mining facilities.

Expanding green spaces into urban areas increases CO2 sequestering capacity. This can be accomplished in many ways, including:

  • Constructing green belts
  • Expanding parks
  • Landscaping with native plants
  • Green buildings
 

Decrease Environmental Disruptions

 

Invasive plants and pathogens affect the ecology of an environment and its ability to offset carbon emissions. Kauri dieback is one example of an invasive microorganism that is wreaking havoc in New Zealand. It has killed thousands of trees in the northern forests, which has led to an increase in carbon losses.

Fires are another environmental disrupter. One way to prevent first is by adapting the forest’s ecosystem to be more fire-resistant. Another is by creating natural and artificial fire breaks.

Rehabilitate Damaged or Destroyed Forests

Carbon forestry includes enhancing an ecosystem’s recovery after a disturbance. After a fire, soil tends to be carbon-rich due to a high concentration of decomposed organic material.

Quickly revegetating the environment with a diverse variety of native plant species is key. The new seedlings will increase carbon absorption as they grow and help stabilize the soil for larger plant species. Waiting leads to topsoil runoff, which flushes the carbon back into the environment.

Benefits of Carbon Forestry

Carbon forestry has multiple benefits to both the environment as well as society. The most notable benefit is increasing carbon offset with higher CO2 sequestering capacity. This reduces greenhouse gases and helps stabilize climate conditions.

Rehabilitation of deforested areas creates habitats for indigenous wildlife. Plants also reduce erosion, protecting waterways and coastal ecosystems, such as coral reefs.

Carbon forestry has a significant impact in arid climates as well. Root systems increase underground water storage, providing nourishment to plants, wildlife, and people.

There is also a notable socio-economic benefit. Carbon forestry opens up new job opportunities and creates green spaces for recreational use.

Carbon Forestry Projects

Maintaining CO2 sequestering and storage indefinitely requires a global carbon forestry effort. There are countless organizations around the world working to offset carbon emissions. Listed below are just a few of them.

The Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a living wall that when complete, will stretch 8,000km (5,000miles) across the continent of Africa. This extraordinary project began over ten years ago in response to climate changes and the expansion of the Sahara Desert.

In response to dwindling resources, local communities started planting drought-resistant trees. This increases groundwater retention and provides a natural buffer against the desert.

As the Great Green Wall grows, the new trees will continue to remove CO2 from the atmosphere. This carbon forestry effort will also restore habitat lost during extended dry periods.

Climate Change Response Framework

This collaborative group is based in the United States. It was created by the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Sciences (NIACS) to address challenges faced by land managers. The Climate Change Response Framework team works to address the needs of the owners.

They have even come up with a “Menu” of actionable steps to aid in carbon forestry management. The suggestions included are beneficial to both the landowners as well as the environment.

Metsähallitus

This is a state-owned organization in Finland. It manages and protects state-owned land and water resources. Their goal is to increase carbon storage by building up forests.

 Metsähallitus utilizes a CO2 classification system to identify areas that need improvement. Their grades are based on soil information, land use, ecological data, and forest area.

Canadian Forest Service
For over 100 years, Canada’s forests served as a carbon sink. In recent years, however, those same forests have become a source. Factors include permafrost melt, forest fires, and excessive logging.

In response, the Canadian Forest Service has taken steps to reduce carbon emissions. They continue to analyze current carbon sink factors and implement carbon forestry practices.

Forest Carbon

Forest Carbon is a UK company that hit the ground running. Since 2006 they have planted over 9.5 million new trees. Their efforts have helped remove over 2.5 million tons of CO2 from the earth’s atmosphere.
They continue to work towards increasing carbon capture. Their efforts include peatland restoration and woodland creation.

 

Hawaii State Division of Forestry and Wildlife

The Hawaii State Division of Forestry and Wildlife (DOFAW) works with the private sector to enhance and sustain forested lands. They utilize community involvement and partner with youth education to spread environmental awareness.

Currently, they have over 15 active projects across the State of Hawaii. These targeted habitat and wildlife rehabilitation projects aim to preserve Hawaii’s natural ecosystem. They hope to increase Hawaii’s carbon sequestering capacity to reach their neutral carbon goals.

Creating a Better Tomorrow

Carbon forestry is one of the most viable solutions for regulating atmospheric CO2. It has the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change. Carbon sequestering can be increased by a number of practices.
Some of these include maintaining forests, expanding green areas, and preventing environmental disruptions.

Thankfully, numerous carbon forestry coalitions already exist around the world. Together they actively work to create a better future for the planet.

Join the carbon forestry movement today by checking for organizations in your area.