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Forests Fight Climate Change

People hiking in a clearing in a forest.
People hiking in a clearing in a forest.

America's forests play an important role in combating climate change.

America's forests play an important role in combating climate change. That is the finding of a report recently released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Forest Service.

According to the report, 41.4 billion metric tons of carbon is currently stored in U.S. national forests, and due to both increases in the total area of forest land and increases in the carbon stored per hectare, an additional 192 million metric tons of carbon are sequestered each year.

The additional carbon sequestered annually offsets roughly 11 percent of U.S. industrial greenhouse gas emissions, the equivalent of removing almost 135 million passenger vehicles from the nation's highways.

"America's forests play a critical role in combating climate change, collectively capturing and storing significant amounts of carbon that would otherwise pollute the atmosphere," said Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack. "Forest management on all lands can contribute significantly toward cooling a warming planet, and this new information will assist the public and policy makers as we work to address this significant issue."

Among other key findings, the report found that, on average, the amount of carbon stored in forestland has increased over the past 2 decades. National forests contain an average of 28 percent more carbon per forest hectare than privately owned land in the U.S. This is due to differing management priorities on national forest lands than on private lands. Private forestlands store more total carbon than national forests.

The U.S. Forest Service manages over 78 million hectares of forests and grasslands across the United States of which over 60 million hectares are forests. An additional 244 million hectares are managed primarily by private land owners, states, local governments, and other U.S. government agencies.

"A strong accounting method serves as the crucial first step in assessing carbon sequestration potential in our nation's forests," said Ann Bartuska, Deputy Undersecretary for Research, Economics, and Education at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The new report, she said, reflects the determination of the United States "to remain on the cutting edge of forest carbon research and science."