The natural cycles of the forest – already compromised from a century of commercial management – are being impacted by climate change. However, wise management choices could restore the forest's capacity to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and help to stabilize the climate.
Carbon sequestration is the process where plants pull CO2 from the atmosphere and transform it into organic carbon (C). Carbon is captured first in living things and then deposited deep in the Earth over time. In both its gas and mineral forms, carbon is a vital and volatile component of the Earth’s ecosystems and is necessary for life to exist. This carbon cycle has been in motion for millennia, determining the level of CO2 in the atmosphere and the climate conditions on the surface of the Earth. Fossil fuels are ancient, deep deposits of carbon that are mined and released back into the atmosphere by human actions. While life on Earth has persisted through many different and even extreme climates, humans and many of the species we share habitats with are now faced with the threat of a climate we are not adapted to.
Industrial forest management can release large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere and logging is the primary source of land-use related carbon emissions in Oregon. Not only does logging emit CO2, but it also reduces a forest’s carbon sequestration & storage capacity over time because trees that would have continued to capture and store carbon for decades or centuries into the future are gone.
This loss is significant because Paciﬁc Northwest forests are some of the best carbon-storing ecosystems in the world. Nine of the top ten carbon sequestering National Forests, including Mt. Hood National Forest, are in the Pacific Northwest. A recent study found that total carbon stocks in Oregon’s forests could theoretically double if forests were managed for maximum carbon sequestration. This could be achieved by protecting mature and old forests that already store large amounts of carbon, and by increasing the commercial logging rotation age by 30–50 years.
For the PNW, climate change means higher temperatures and extreme weather patterns that adversely impact water, wildlife and natural disturbance regimes.
Many models suggest precipitation and temperature patterns are changing in the Pacific Northwest resulting in more rain instead of snow and more rain-on-snow events (a leading cause of landslides and flooding) in the winter and longer drought periods in the summer.
Fish & Wildlife
As Oregon streams experience higher winter flow and reduced summer flows, while temperature rises and the variability of precipitation increases, the impacts on populations of threatened salmon are disastrous. Warmer air temperatures combined with lower summer stream flows will increase water temperatures and cause thermal stress and possibly death to adult & juvenile salmon.
Climate scientists have found that climate change is resulting in higher average temperatures, drier summer conditions and more frequent instances of extreme fire weather, causing the fire season to begin earlier and last longer.
Bark is a founding member of the Pacific NW Forest Climate Alliance, where we work with allies across the region to promote forest management that increases carbon storage and supports climate resilient ecosystems.