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Top 10 gas-storing national forests are in Northwest, study says

The top 10 national forests for storing greenhouse gases in the United States are in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska, according to an analysis released Thursday by the Wilderness Society.

The storage of carbon helps combat the threat of climate change, officials say. Carbon stored in the trees and soils of the moist national forests in Washington, Oregon and southeast Alaska totals some 9.8 billion metric tons. By comparison, one year of fossil fuel burned in the United States contains 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, the study said.

The Olympic National Forest tied with Umpqua National Forest in Oregon as the second-best carbon bank of all the 120 national forests in the country, according to the report. Willamette National Forest in Oregon was No. 1, and Gifford Pinchot Forest in southwest Washington ranked fourth.

“The mature and old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest and southeast Alaska are among the Earth’s greatest carbon-storing ecosystems,” said Jerry Franklin, professor of ecosystem analysis at the University of Washington’s College of Forest Resources.

These forests act as giant piggy banks, storing up carbon, said Mike Anderson, a Wilderness Society senior resource analyst and a co-author of the report.

The region’s mature trees, moisture, productive soils, long growing season and relative lack of forest fire all contribute to the high carbon density in the national forests, Anderson said.

He said the ability of the national forests to store so much carbon is another important reason to protect them from overharvest. Some 60 percent of the carbon stored in a tree leaks out when it is harvested, and globally, about 20 percent of all recent, human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions can be traced to deforestation, according to a 2009 Wilderness Society report.

“Most people know that our forests provide valuable wildlife habitat and recreation opportunities, but it’s what goes unseen that can help us now and in the future,” Anderson said.

The study’s conclusions came as no surprise to Kathy O’Halloran, a natural resources staff officer for the U.S. Forest Service assigned to Olympic National Forest, which encompasses more than 630,000 acres.

“We grow big trees,” she said. “Carbon storage is one of the benefits of our forest management.”

John Dodge: 360-754-5444

jdodge@theolympian.com

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