Estimating the Nation's Forest Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Removals

Domke, Grant M.; Walters, Brian F.; Nowak, David J.; Smith, James, E.; Nichols, Michael C.; Ogle, Stephen M.; Coulston, J.W.; Wirth, T.C. 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions and removals from forest land, woodlands, and urban trees in the United States, 1990–2019. Resource Update FS–307. Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 5 p. [plus 2 appendixes]. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-RU-307.

Research Issue

Tree covered mountains in background and lake in foreground. Kinsman Notch, Woodstock NH, White Mountain National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo.

As a signatory to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the United States has been reporting an economy-wide inventory of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and removals since the mid-1990s (US EPA 2021). Scientists with the Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, the “tree census” developed by the USDA Forest Service, contribute estimates of greenhouse gas emissions and removals that are used in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) National Greenhouse Gas Report.
Estimates include the movement of carbon from the atmosphere into living trees, dead wood and soil as well as emissions from forest fires. With the addition of Alaska to the estimate in 2020, the only state not included in the report is Hawaii, where sufficient inventory data are not yet available.

Our Research

The third report in a new series of annual updates provides an overview of the status and trends of GHG emissions and removals from forest land, woodlands in the grassland category, harvested wood products, and urban trees in settlements in the United States from 1990 to 2019. The report revealed that collectively, forested land, harvested wood products, and urban trees accounted for more than 95 percent of carbon stored in natural systems (commonly referred to as the “carbon sink”) in the United States. The carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere and stored in forests, harvested wood products, and urban trees is equivalent to more than 11 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Live tree biomass in forests and settlements account for nearly 80 percent of the carbon sink strength.

Expected Outcomes

The development of state-by-state greenhouse gas estimates and data products by the USDA Forest Service increases the utility of the information prepared as part of the US commitment to the UNFCCC. State level data gives users information that is critical to planning and implementation of climate mitigation strategies for entities responsible for land management, including the state, tribes, local government, industry, non-profit organizations and individual landowners. Planned improvements to FIA’s estimation and reporting include a more robust estimation and reporting system, continued refinements to C pool estimates, and disaggregation of harvested wood products estimates.

Research Results

Domke, Grant M.; Walters, Brian F.; Nowak, David J.; Smith, James, E.; Nichols, Michael C.; Ogle, Stephen M.; Coulston, J.W.; Wirth, T.C. 2021. Greenhouse gas emissions and removals from forest land, woodlands, and urban trees in the United States, 1990–2019. Resource Update FS–307. Madison, WI: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 5 p. [plus 2 appendixes]. https://doi.org/10.2737/FS-RU-307.

US Environmental Protection Agency. 2021. Inventory of Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks 1990-2019. EPA430-R-21-005. 790 pp.

Research Participants

Principal Investigator

  • Grant Domke, USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station, Research Forester

Research Partners

  • Brian F. Walters, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Forester
  • James Smith, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Research Plant Physiologist
  • David Nowak, USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, Senior Scientist
  • Tom Wirth, US EPA, Climate Change Division
  • Stephen Ogle, Colorado State University, Natural Resources Ecology Laboratory
  • John Coulston, Southern Research Station, Project Leader
  • Michael Nichols, Northern Research Station, Science Delivery Specialist

 

  • Last modified: April 21, 2021