Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Resource update: Greenhouse gas emissions, removals from forest land in US

MINNESOTA—Collectively, trees in forests, woodlands, and settlements and harvested wood products represent the largest net carbon sink in the United States, offsetting more than 11 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions annually.

For a quarter century, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has reported on economy-wide greenhouse gas emissions and removals as part of the United States’ commitment to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since the beginning of UNFCCC reporting in the United States, scientists and staff with the Northern Research Station and Southern Research Station have contributed to the Land Use, Land-Use Change, and Forestry chapter of the EPA report, which includes estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and removals from managed land in the United States and the role these lands play in offsetting greenhouse gas emissions.

In 2017, forest land, woodland, harvested wood products and urban trees collectively represented an estimated net uptake of 716.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. A typical passenger vehicle in the United States emits 4.6 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Details in the recently released EPA report (and summarized in a new Northern Research Station Resource Update) suggest that forests, woodlands, trees in settlements and harvested wood products collectively offset the emissions of more than 155 million passenger vehicles in the United States each year.

For further information, read the Resource Update, "Greenhouse gas emissions and removals from forest land and urban trees in the United States, 1990–2017."

Panoramic view of Monongahela National Forest.
Forests, like Monongahela National Forest (pictured), as well as woodlands, trees in settlements and harvested wood products collectively offset the emissions of more than 155 million passenger vehicles in the United States each year. USDA Forest Service photo.