Office of the Climate Change Advisor

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Performance Scorecard
Starting this year, each national forest and grassland will be tracking progress using a new 10-point scorecard. The Forest Service's research branch along with regional and national programs will provide support for this agency-wide effort.

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National Roadmap
The Roadmap will help to guide the Forest Service as it works to ensure that national forests and private working lands are conserved, restored, and made more resilient to climate change.

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Performance Scorecard: 9- Carbon Assessment and Stewardship

Scorecard Question

Does the unit have a baseline assessment of carbon stocks and the influence of disturbance and management activities on these stocks? Is the unit integrating carbon stewardship with the management of other benefits being provided by the unit?


Completing scorecard element #9 will allow managers to understand the implications of potential future management activities on carbon stocks and flows in the forest.  While the Forest Service manages our National Forests for a wide variety of ecosystem services (including timber, fresh water, recreation, fish & wildlife, habitat, etc), knowing the carbon dynamics of our forests will allow us to know how much the National Forests are mitigating climate change by serving as carbon sinks (or, in some cases, sources). 

Forest Service managers and research scientists from the Northern and Rocky Mountain Research Stations and elsewhere are collaborating on several projects which will provide land managers with the scientific knowledge and tools needed to “get to yes” on scorecard element 9.  These tools represent a strategic investment on a national scale that is supported by R&D expertise, so that the burden of carbon inventories does not fall to individual forests at the unit level.  Many of these tools are still under development, but will be fully deployed in the coming years:

What are other forests doing?

CCT – the Carbon Calculation Tool – is used to compile the nation’s FIA data and calculate carbon stocks annually from 1990 to the present. It currently operates at the state scale but is being updated to provide these estimates at the scale of a National Forest. This approach has been successfully tested for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest. Since CCT works best when at least two complete inventories are available during the time period from 1990 to present, it will not function so well for National Forests that lack successive FIA inventories. It is anticipated that the NFS version of CCT will be ready sometime in FY 2013. 


Figure 1. Change in carbon stock for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, 1901-2006, modeled using InTEC.

Figure 1. Change in carbon stock for the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest, 1901-2006, modeled using InTEC.

InTEC – the Integrated Terrestrial Ecosystem Model -- is an ecosystem process model that can currently downscale “national wall-to-wall” carbon assessment products into outputs that can be used for reporting at the National Forest scale for forests in the continental U.S. The model uses 1-km2 remote sensing data, FIA data (field-based) and climate, site productivity, and past disturbance data to assess historical trends in carbon stocks and how they are affected by land management, climate variability, and disturbance factors.  A unique feature of InTEC is estimation of long-term change in soil carbon stocks using the well-known Century model.  Work underway will develop a high-resolution version of InTEC to run specifically within the boundaries of each National Forests, which will “tune” the results to each Forest’s conditions.  By providing a clearer picture of the factors that have impacted past trends in carbon flow, InTEC will provide a better context for future decision-making by managers.  InTEC has been peer-reviewed and published, and coarse-resolution results are currently available.  The high-resolution version of the model will be developed during FY 2013.


ForCaMF comparisons of combustion emissions related to fire(box and plots) and carbon export due to harvest (dashed line) in Ravalli County, MT, 1985-2005

ForCaMF – the Forest Carbon Management Framework – uses high-resolution (30m) satellite maps of forest structure and disturbance over the past 30 years, and combines this information with forest carbon dynamics built into the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) to identify carbon flows related to management and natural disturbance.  Maps of vegetation conditions and disturbance are constrained as closely as possible by FIA inventory data and NFS activities records.  ForCaMF will facilitate Forest- -level carbon assessments, and will also eventually provide a “gaming interface” so managers can compare carbon storage effects of alternative  disturbance and management scenarios of interest.  Ultimately, ForCaMF will allow managers to answer questions like:

  • What is the role of management and natural disturbance on how much carbon the landscape stores or emits?
  • How do short-term carbon effects of management and disturbance differ from long-term effects?
  • How does carbon accumulation in undisturbed parts of the landscape compare with disturbance losses?
  • What is the magnitude of harvest effects vs. “natural processes”?

The first ForCaMF-enabled assessments will focus on NFS Region 1 and will be delivered in early 2013. Other NFS regions will follow.  ForCaMF is designed specifically to address “carbon flows” language in element 9, and will enable all forests to “get to yes”by the target year of 2015.

Harvested Wood Products – efforts are underway to collect data about historical harvest from National Forests and estimate the amount of carbon currently sequestered in wood products and solid waste disposal sites.  As with ForCaMF, work has been accelerated to provide initial estimates for 2 or 3 NFS regions in FY 2012 and the rest in FY 2013.  A related effort is underway to complete an on-line Product Estimation Tool (Presto) that will allow managers the flexibility to enter information and calculate effects of varying harvest levels on wood product pools.  Presto will be available for use beginning in the fall of 2012.

Integrated Information Delivery – work is just beginning to develop a user-friendly data delivery tool that will allow managers to query the model simulations and the underlying data bases including maps of key variables.  This will provide both ease of access to the information compiled, and flexibility to adapt the information to the specific analysis needs of each National Forest.  This information can also  be used to support other vegetation analysis needs besides reporting for scorecard element 9.

Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest


The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (R9) (CNNF) has, for the past several years, been involved in a highly collaborative effort called the Climate Change Response Framework Project [in Northern Wisconsin].  As part of this project, CNNF staff specialists and line officers collaborated with researchers and specialists from the Northern Research Station, the Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science, the Northeastern Area S&PF, and the University of Wisconsin to conduct a Mitigation Assessment.  The mitigation assessment provides information on carbon stocks and pools on the CNNF and surrounding lands and includes information, but not recommendations, on various forest management practices and how they would potentially affect carbon stocks.    




A Synthesis of the Science on Forests and Carbon for US Forests
(Ryan; Harmon; Birdsey; Giardina; Heath; Houghton; Jackson; McKinley; Morrison; Murray; Pataki; Skog.  Ecological Society of America, Issues in Ecology – Report 13. 2010.)

Re-Framing Forest and Resource Management Strategies for a Climate Change Context
(Millar; Stephenson; Stephens. 2008)
An overarching narrative document on adaptation and mitigation as they relate to forest management.

An Annotated Bibliography of Scientific Literature on Managing Forests for Carbon Benefits
(Hines; Heath; Birdsey.  Gen. Tech. Rep. NRS-57.  2010.)
An annotated list of scientific literature citations on the subject of carbon and forest management.

CCRC Recommended Reading List
Filter by ‘Forests and Carbon’ for more resources on the science of carbon management in forests. 

CCRC Climate Change Topics Pages
The CCRC Topic Pages each list subject-specific management options for dealing with climate change. The Forests and Carbon Storage topic page may be a good starting point for achieving a high-level understanding of the relationship between forests, management, and carbon storage, while topic pages on Silviculture and Distubances and Stressors may help build an understanding the influences that management activities and disturbances have on carbon stocks.

Video presentations

Forest and Grassland Carbon in North America: a short course for land managers
This online course is intended to provide public and private land managers with information on the science, management and policy of forest and grassland carbon.

Climate Change Presentations – Forests & Carbon
A series of video lectures on the broad theme of forests and carbon. Some of the presentations in this category relate more broadly to climate change impacts or adaptation, but several relate specifically to carbon assessments and stewardship, including the following:
What is the Role of Forests in the US Carbon Balance? (Mike Ryan)
Forests, Carbon, and Climate Change: What’s Oregon Doing? (Mike Cloughesy)
Rethinking Forest Management in the West (Connie Millar)


CCRC Primer on Carbon Estimation Tools.  Check out this user-friendly reference for a general comparison of many of the decision-support tools that are available for carbon.  However, the following tools will probably be most relevant and helpful in “getting to YES”:

COLE v2.0 retrieves Forest Inventory and Analysis data for a user-selected area (within the continental United States), converts these data to ecosystem carbon and produces basic carbon inventory and growth and yield estimates.  Using this program, a user can generate an acceptable baseline assessment of carbon stocks for the purpose of partially fulfilling element requirements.  COLE requires fairly minimal investment to learn and use.  A more detailed and/or accurate baseline assessment of carbon stocks can also potentially be generated through a science-management partnership that use other tools or by completing an on-the-ground carbon inventory (see “What are other forests doing?”); however, these methods are usually more time- and resource-intensive.

The Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) is the USDA Forest Service's nationally supported framework for stand-level growth and yield modeling.  FVS can help you to understand the influence of disturbance and management activities on carbon stocks, which will help you to partially fulfill element requirements.  FVS is a complex and powerful modeling tool that requires significant upfront investment to learn (up to 1-2 weeks); the unit may also want to consider partnering with a qualified research scientist if local FVS-expertise is not available.

The Carbon Calculation Tool 2007 is a computer application that reads publicly available forest inventory data collected by the USDA Forest Service's Forest Inventory and Analysis Program (FIA) and generates state-level annualized estimates of carbon stocks on forest land based on FORCARB2 estimators.  This can help to contextualize your baseline assessment on a larger scale which is helpful, but may not be essential in “getting to YES”.  The CCT requires fairly minimal investment to learn and use.

Scorecard questions, concerns or suggestions for
additional resources?

Inquire with the Climate Change Advisor.

All Scorecard Elements

  1. Employee Education
  2. Climate Change Coordinators
  3. Program Guidance
  4. Science-Management Partnerships
  5. Other Partnerships
  6. Assessing Vulnerability
  7. Adaptation Actions
  8. Monitoring
  9. Carbon Assessment and Stewardship
  10. Sustainable Operations

Getting to YES

To answer “yes,” your unit should have a baseline assessment of carbon stocks and the influence of disturbance and management activities on these stocks and should use this assessment to integrate carbon stewardship with the management of other benefits being provided by the unit. These assessments can be separate documents, a combined document, or part of a larger regional or state assessment. However, the assessment should be presented in a way that is easily understood by and relevant to those making Unit-level decisions. The previous sections on definitions and geographic scale provide some guidance about what information may be minimally required, and the technical information in Appendix F provides additional guidance about approaches.

The narrative for this element asks you to answer the following questions:

  1. Does your unit have a baseline assessment of carbon stocks?
  2. Have you assessed how disturbance and management activities are influencing carbon stocks or carbon sequestration and emissions? What is the basis for this assessment?
  3. How is your unit integrating carbon stewardship with the management of other benefits being provided by the unit?


Baseline Assessment

A baseline assessment is a compilation of data about current carbon stocks and recent changes in carbon stocks on the land and in harvested wood products. The data may be presented by land use and cover categories within National Forest or Grassland boundaries that support analysis and assessment: forest, shrubland, grassland, wetland, other non-forest land, and meaningful subdivisions of these (Note: These cover types may not be significant everywhere, or may be too small in area to justify separate analysis).

Carbon Stocks

Carbon stocks are the quantity of carbon stored in terrestrial components (“pools”) of the forest or grassland at a given point in time. Pools include aboveground living trees or other vegetation, dead wood, leaf litter, roots and soil. For the purposes of reporting on this Element, we are not including carbon in fossil fuel resources, wood products, lakes or rivers, emissions from agency operations (included in Element 10), or the impacts of socioeconomic infrastructure on emissions. However, decisions about such resources may still have implications for Unit level decisions related to greenhouse gas mitigation more broadly.  

Assessment of the influence of disturbance and management activities on carbon stocks

An assessment of the influence of disturbance and management activities on carbon stocks is an analysis of the main factors affecting changes in carbon stocks, the opportunities to increase sequestration or reduce emissions of greenhouse gases through changes in land management where appropriate, and the interactions with other services provided by the land. Consideration of the needs and potential impacts of energy and other socioeconomic infrastructure may be appropriate for such analysis, particularly if conducted at larger geographic scales than the Unit level, but is not required for the purposes of this scorecard.

Geographic Scale

The baseline assessment may be prepared at the Unit, state, landscape, or regional level as long as it breaks out information for individual Units (see Appendix F). The most appropriate scale for conducting the assessment of disturbance and management activities on carbon flows may be either the individual Unit or a larger scale (landscape, state, region) depending on the availability of existing analyses and whether Units have been explicitly included as part of a larger-scale assessment, such that the prospective role of federal lands can be determined. The assessment may also draw on information from life cycle analysis of the effect of forest management alternatives done at a multi-region, national, or international scale.


Full Guidance Document
PDF, 2.2 MB, 104 pp

Download Appendix F: Carbon Assessment
PDF, 471 K, 7 pp