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Implications of land-use change on forest carbon stocks in the eastern United States

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Puhlick, Joshua; Woodall, Christopher; Weiskittel, Aaron

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Environmental Research Letters


Given the substantial role that forests play in removing CO2 from the atmosphere, there has been a growing need to evaluate the carbon (C) implications of various forest management and land-use decisions. Although assessment of land-use change is central to national-level greenhouse gas monitoring guidelines, it is rarely incorporated into forest stand-level evaluations of C dynamics and trajectories. To better inform the assessment of forest stand C dynamics in the context of potential land-use change, we used a region-wide repeated forest inventory (n = 71 444 plots) across the eastern United States to assess forest land-use conversion and associated changes in forest C stocks. Specifically, the probability of forest area reduction between 2002–2006 and 2007–2012 on these plots was related to key driving factors such as proportion of the landscape in forest land use, distance to roads, and initial forest C. Additional factors influencing the actual reduction in forest area were then used to assess the risk of forest land-use conversion to agriculture, settlement, and water. Plots in forests along the Great Plains had the highest periodic (approximately 5 years) probability of land-use change (0.160 ± 0.075; mean ± SD) with forest conversion to agricultural uses accounting for 70.5% of the observed land-use change. Aboveground forest C stock change for plots with a reduction in forest area was –4.2 ± 17.7 Mg ha-1 (mean ± SD). The finding that poorly stocked stands and/or those with small diameter trees had the highest probability of conversion to non-forest land uses suggests that forest management strategies can maintain the US terrestrial C sink not only in terms of increased net forest growth but also retention of forest area to avoid conversion. This study highlights the importance of considering land-use change in planning and policy decisions that seek to maintain or enhance regional C sinks.


forest inventory and analysis; multinomial and binomial modeling; beta regression; land-use change


Puhlick, Joshua; Woodall, Christopher; Weiskittel, Aaron. 2017. Implications of land-use change on forest carbon stocks in the eastern United States. Environmental Research Letters. 12(2): 024011-. 13 p.

Last updated on: May 23, 2018