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Director's ChoiceManaging Forests for Soil Carbon: Protecting an Invisible Resource

The map created by the project team shows the effects of forest harvesting on soil carbon storage, to an accuracy of 100 feet, across the project area.

Sure, we already knew that forest harvesting impacts on soil carbon in the Lake States were variable, but for the first time, we now know why, where, and what can be done about it. This work supports the professionals who manage the largely invisible but critically important soil resources that sustain society’s need for food, fiber, and fuel in a region where forestry is a $60 billion per year industry and employs more than 125,000 people.

In the Lake States, soils hold well over half of all forest carbon. Until now, researchers have not known how management affects the size of this resource—the largest single pool of forest carbon—at the landscape scales where many management decisions are made. Thanks to an analysis of existing data from a range of sources, Northern Research Station scientists and their partners can now offer forest managers the information they need to incorporate soil carbon into planning, assessments, and operations for a region that covers 6 percent of the land area but holds almost 10 percent of the forest soil carbon in the United States. The team established that soil properties such as texture mean the difference between significant gains and significant losses of carbon when forests are harvested. Researchers also revealed how past management, such as Civilian Conservation Corps reforestation, continues to support soil carbon sequestration and highlighted the contribution of reforested minelands in sequestering soil carbon. To make their results usable, the team published a map of forest harvesting impacts on soil carbon that is now in use on three National Forests across the region, and a menu of place-based options to protect against losses or enhance potential gains in soil carbon.


Publications and Resources

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Luke Nave, University of Michigan, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
  • Kendall DeLyser, American Forests
  • Todd Ontl, Michigan Technological University, Northern Institute of Applied Climate Science
  • Eric Sprague, American Forests