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Northern Research Station crews measure trees to determine carbon storage

Newtown Square, PA, September 18, 2006 - This week, a USDA Forest Service, Northern Research Station forest inventory crew will be measuring trees in Philadelphia’s Fairmount Park to determine how much carbon they store.  That knowledge is the first step in a national effort to determine how rapidly forests can remove carbon (in the form of carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere.

Over-abundance of CO2 is one of the main causes of global change.  Reduction of atmospheric CO2 has recently gained momentum as an important goal for this and many other countries.

In March 2003, the USDA Forest Service and American Forests, Inc., in collaboration with Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), released a study that estimates the five-county Philadelphia region has lost 5 million trees over the past 15 years. This loss impacts municipalities, neighborhoods and homeowners through increased stormwater runoff, lower air quality and increased energy costs. Additional research shows that tree cover can positively impact the social and economic environment. In short, tree cover is an important component in maintaining and improving the quality of life in the region. DCNR seeks to redress the region’s loss through a new, broad-based partnership to restore tree cover in southeastern Pennsylvania. The state, through DCNR and The Department of Environmental Protection, has committed $3 million for this effort. Additional financial support is being sought from the federal government, local government, foundations and private industry.

The crew has been taking similar measures this summer at the Kane Experimental Forest in northwestern Pennsylvania. By surveying Fairmount Park forests, scientists can estimate the amount of carbon stored and the rate at which the newly planted forests are removing carbon from the atmosphere and compare it with the rate of carbon removed by the longer established forests.  This comparison will help scientists understand and predict the effects of urban tree planting programs such as TreeVitalize.

This inventory is part of TreeVitalize, a partnership administered by the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society and supported by the USDA Forest Service Northern Research Station, the Pennsylvania DCNR, Pennsylvania DEP, as well as other nonprofit and private groups.

TreeVitalize partners can claim the carbon sequestered by the trees for reporting to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Voluntary Reporting of Greenhouse Gases 1605(b) Program.  The Forest Service Northern Research Station’s Global Change Program Manager, Richard Birdsey, has been instrumental in crafting the technical guidelines for reporting carbon sequestration for the forest sector.

“Those looking to help mitigate a changing climate may want to look to urban forests for alternative ways to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases or increase the removal of carbon from the atmosphere,” Birdsey said.

Although greenhouse gas reductions are voluntary, this program is considered the forerunner to an eventual mandatory reporting scheme.

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The U.S. Forest Service is an agency of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, a mission of sustaining the health, diversity and productivity of the nation’s forests and grasslands to meet the needs of present and future generations. The mission of the Forest Service's Northern Research Station is to improve people’s lives and help sustain the natural resources in the Northeast and Midwest through leading-edge science and effective information delivery.

The U.S. Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners, and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Public lands the Forest Service manages contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live. For more information, visit


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Last modified: September 18, 2006