Clean Air

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]

Clean Water

Forests benefit water quality.
  • Trees help filter sediment and nutrients from water runoff before it enters streams, lakes and other water bodies.
  • In the U.S., 53% of the Nation’s total water supply originates from public and private forest lands.[9]
  • Roughly 87% of all of the country’s fresh water supply originates from forests and agricultural lands and more than 200 million people rely on their drinking water from public and private forests and grasslands.[10]
Forested lands provide the highest quality of stream water.
Water quality is protected through state Best Management Practices.
  • Since the passage of the Clean Water Act (CWA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has contended that the most effective way to ensure forestry activities maintain water quality is to treat them as nonpoint sources regulated through best management practices (BMPs) by the states rather than through federal permits that are required for waste discharge from a factory or a water treatment facility. This policy has been in place since 1976.
  • State BMPs, tailored to the specific conditions and needs within a state or region, address such things as harvesting, planting, and roads. Studies show that these widely used practices are highly effective at protecting water quality and helping maintain the U.S. as a world leader in sustainable forest management.
    • BMPs provide substantial protection to water quality and aquatic habitat.[14]
    • Multiple paired watershed studies show that BMPs reduce water quality impacts (e.g., sediment, temperature, dissolved oxygen, herbicides) by 80 to 90% compared to historic practices without BMPs.[15]
    • The Watersheds Research Cooperative is finding that fish populations are protected with contemporary forest practices.[16]

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. Regulating Greenhouse Gas Emissions Under the CAA. 73 Federal Register. Pages 44354 and 44405 (July 30, 2008).
  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).
  9. U.S. Forest Service Fact Sheet (August 13, 2009).
  10. U.S. Forest Service Research Accomplishments 2012
  11. Linkages between forest soils and water quality and quantity, Neary, Ice et. al. May 2009
  12. Id.
  13. Id.
  14. Effectiveness of best management practices to protect water quality in South Carolina Piedmont, Tenth Biennial Southern Silvicultural Research Conference, General Technical Report SRS-30, Williams, Lipscomb, (2000).
  15. History of innovative best management practice development and its role in addressing water quality limited waterbodies, Journal of Environmental Engineering 130(6), 2004, and Storm runoff and sediment losses from forest clearcutting and stand re-establishment. Hydrological Processes 22(10), McBroom, Beasley, (2008).