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A Tale of Two Forest Carbon Inventories: How Land-Use Measurements Affect National Greenhouse Gas Inventories

Photo of Percent change in (a) forest land use and (b) net forest cover change by study hexagons, 2002-2006 to 2007-2012, eastern U.S. Forest land use appears to increase in contrast to apparent widespread loss of forest cover. Brian Walters. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Percent change in (a) forest land use and (b) net forest cover change by study hexagons, 2002-2006 to 2007-2012, eastern U.S. Forest land use appears to increase in contrast to apparent widespread loss of forest cover. Brian Walters. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : In a tale of two different forest carbon (C) inventories, the epilogue is that these C inventories are for the same forest but with different authors (i.e., land use versus cover) that can result in starkly contrasting conclusions in regard to forest C dynamics with serious implications for policy makers.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Woodall, Christopher W.  
Research Location : Eastern U.S. forests
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1001

Summary

The specifics of how land is used (forest versus cropland) is often a major driver of changes in terrestrial carbon (C), which in turn is often a policy tool in reducing future atmospheric CO2. The identification of land use is along a spectrum ranging from direct observation to interpretation of remotely sensed imagery. Given the potential for substantial differences across this spectrum of monitoring, a regionwide forest inventory across the eastern U.S. was used to evaluate relationships between forest land-use change and forest cover change in the context of forest C monitoring. Forest Service scientists found that the correlation between forest land-use change and cover change was minimal, with an increase in forest land use but a net decrease in forest cover being the most frequent observation. Cover assessments may be more sensitive to active forest management and/or conversion activities that can lead to confounded conclusions regarding the forest C sink (e.g., decreasing forest cover but increasing C stocks in commercial forests). In contrast, the categorical nature of direct land use field observations reduces their sensitivity to forest management activities (e.g., clearcutting versus thinning) and recent disturbance events that may obscure interpretation of C dynamics over short time steps.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • University of Minnesota
  • University of Vermont

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