Working forests are fundamental to reducing overall greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations in the atmosphere.

  • Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the air through photosynthesis and store it in the roots, stem, limbs and leaves of the tree as part of natural tree growth. This process, called carbon sequestration, occurs most rapidly in growing trees and slows down as trees age. Sequestered carbon is stored in the forest in trees, soil, and the wood debris on the forest floor and in long-lasting products made from harvested wood.
  • Forests in the United States, 56% of which are privately owned,[1] offset 13% of total U.S. CO2 emissions.[2]

Working forests long have been recognized as a source of real and verifiable reductions in greenhouse gases and a cost-effective source of industrial GHG offsets.

  • The United Nations’ 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (“IPCC”) highlights forest management as a primary tool to reduce GHG emissions. The IPCC states that, “In the long term, a sustainable forest management strategy aimed at maintaining or increasing forest stocks, while producing an annual sustained yield of timber, fiber or energy from the forest, will generate the greatest mitigation benefit.”
  • Similarly, the EPA has identified responsibly managed forests as one of five key “groups of strategies that could substantially reduce emissions between now and 2030.”[3]
  • Using the sequestration and storage capabilities of responsibly managed working forests in an industrial emissions offset marketplace can reduce the overall cost of achieving mandatory emissions reduction targets. Thus, most established GHG trading regimes credit forestry activities.

Wood removed from working forests can provide a reliable source of secure, domestic low-carbon energy, including electricity, heat and transportation fuel.

  • The EPA has concluded that there is “‘scientific consensus’… that the carbon dioxide emitted from burning biomass will not increase CO2 in the air if it is done on a sustainable basis.”[4] This position is supported by the IPCC, the Energy Information Administration, the World Resources Institute and other credible scientific bodies.
  • Wood sources of renewable transportation fuels significantly reduce GHGs. According to the U.S Department of Energy, using forest materials to make biofuels that replace gasoline can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 86% compared to gasoline.[5]

Products like building materials, furniture and other consumer goods made of wood harvested from working forests are an important means of storing carbon over long periods.

  • The EPA estimates that the amount of carbon stored annually in forest products in the U.S. is equivalent to removing more than 70 million tons of CO2 from the atmosphere every year.[6]
  • An independent study shows that wood products used in construction store more carbon and use less fossil fuels than other materials, like steel and concrete. Wood framing in a home produces 26% less net CO2 emissions than steel and 31% less than concrete.[7]
  • Research on private forestlands has shown that more intensively managed forests and the products they produce can provide as much as 100% more carbon mitigation benefits than less intensively managed forests.[8]

Additional Resources

Carbon 101: Understanding the Carbon Cycle and the Forest Carbon Debate

Managing Forest for Carbon Mitigation

Life Cycle Impacts of Forest Management and Bioenergy Production

  1. USDA Forest Service 2010 Resources Planning Act Assessment (August 2012).
  2. Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990 – 2013, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (p. ES-20) (April, 2015).
  3. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. July 30, 2008. Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under the CAA. 73 Federal Register. Pages 44354 and 44405.
  4. U. S. Environmental Protection Agency Combined Heat and Power Partnership. Biomass Combined Heat and Power Catalog of Technologies (September 2007).
  5. U.S. Department of Energy, Alternative fuels data Center.
  6. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990-2011, table 7.7.
  7. CORRIM: Life-Cycle Environmental Performance of Renewable Building Materials, Forest Products Journal (June 2004).
  8. Life cycle impacts of forest management and wood utilization on carbon mitigation: known and unknowns, 2011.