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Research: Preserving NW Forests Needed in Global Climate Crisis

Preserving forests in the Northwest would be the equivalent of not burning fossil fuels for eight years in the Western United States, a study has found. (Oregon State University)
Preserving forests in the Northwest would be the equivalent of not burning fossil fuels for eight years in the Western United States, a study has found. (Oregon State University)
December 19, 2019

PORTLAND, Ore. - New Oregon State University research says Pacific Northwest forests are integral for mitigating the effects of climate change.

The study, published in Ecological Applications, identifies forests along the western slope of the Cascade Mountains and some in the Northern Rockies as most valuable for carbon sequestration and also least vulnerable to rising global temperatures.

The scientists found preventing logging in these areas would be equivalent to not burning fossil fuels for eight years in the Western United States.

Study co-author Beverly Law, a professor of forest ecosystems and society at OSU, compares Northwest forests to the Amazon and says preserving these forests is low-hanging fruit in the fight against climate change.

"This is a global crisis," she stresses. "It affects everybody. It affects all life on this planet. So we've got to take some drastic actions now because we put it off for decades."

The researchers also found preserving these forests would enhance biodiversity.

The Oregon Forest and Industries Council did not respond to a request for comment, but it has noted about past studies about logging and carbon emissions that the timber industry's reforestation efforts help mitigate its climate impact.

Polly Buotte, a postdoctoral scholar and another co-author of the study, says preserving these forests is a win-win for battling climate change and supporting a wide array of wildlife species.

She acknowledges that it's tricky to balance protections with industries that rely on these forests.

However, Buotte doesn't believe it has to be one or the other, suggesting the region could look at the history of specific stands when making decisions about preservation.

"Some stands that have not yet ever been harvested, then those I think are the most important to preserve," she stresses. "Those that either have only seen one harvest cycle or no harvest cycles. And so I think it requires people working together to decide."

The researchers simulated potential carbon sequestration under both dry and wet climate change predictions throughout the 21st century.

The study was supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's National Institute of Food and Agriculture.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR