Forest Soil Carbon Initiative
US forests and forest products currently offset 15 percent of US economy-wide carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels through carbon sequestration—and up to three-quarters of that carbon is contained in forest soils. However, most greenhouse gas mitigation policies and programs have focused on managing this natural climate protection by managing aboveground biomass alone, and little consideration is given to the large and critical pool of soil carbon.
Soil carbon has been difficult to account for in current policies and programs because the data is sparse and expensive to capture at the site level—the level that is most relevant to individual landowners and specific management decisions. Further, the impacts of different kinds of forest management and disturbance (e.g., harvesting, reforestation, and fire) on soil carbon balances are not entirely predictable and can be influenced by the inherently high site-to-site variability of soils across the country.
There’s a clear need for a better understanding of forest soil carbon dynamics that can, in turn, help us better include soils in forest management and climate policy.
American Forests, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science (NIACS) and the University of Michigan have established the Forest Soil Carbon Initiative to address this need to better understand these dynamics. Our goal for the Initiative is to convert forest soil science into guidance for tangible action by government agencies and private landowners seeking to protect or enhance soil carbon sequestration and storage.
We are working to accomplish this goal using a phased research approach: first, we identify broad trends in soil carbon sequestration (especially in response to forest management and disturbance), and then downscale these trends to understand them at a more local level.
The results of the downscaling process will allow us to identify beneficial soil carbon management practices that landowners and land management agencies can apply in their forests. We can also use this information to create a decision support tool designed to map areas where forest soil carbon can be best protected and enhanced, which landowners and managers can use to optimize forest soil carbon across their lands.
American Forests has many opportunities to leverage the tools of the Initiative with our partners, including several state natural resource agencies, the Forest-Climate Working Group, and the US Climate Alliance. By making the lessons learned from our work available to these groups, we can more widely promote the adoption of beneficial soil carbon management practices and accelerate the integration of forest soil carbon into greenhouse gas mitigation policies and programs.