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Opportunities for forest sector emissions reductions: a state‐level analysis

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Dugan, Alexa J.; Lichstein, Jeremy W.; Steele, Al ; Metsaranta, Juha M.; Bick, Steven ; Hollinger, David Y.

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Ecological Applications


The forest sector can play a significant role in climate change mitigation. We evaluated forest sector carbon trends and potential mitigation scenarios in Vermont using a systems-based modeling framework that accounts for net emissions from all forest sector components. These components comprise (1) the forest ecosystem, including land-use change, (2) harvested wood products (HWP), and (3) substitution effects associated with using renewable wood-based products and fuels in place of more emission-intensive materials and fossil fuelbased energy. We assessed baseline carbon trends from 1995 through 2050 using a business as usual (BAU) scenario. Emission reductions associated with different forest management and HWP scenarios were evaluated relative to the BAU scenario from 2020 to 2050. We estimated uncertainty for each forest sector component and used a Monte Carlo approach to estimate the distribution of cumulative total mitigation for each scenario relative to baseline. Our analysis indicates that the strength of the forest sector carbon sink in Vermont has been declining and will continue to decline over coming decades under the BAU scenario. However, several scenarios evaluated here could be effective in reducing emissions and enhancing carbon uptake. Shifting HWP to longer-lived commodities resulted in a 14% reduction in net cumulative emissions by 2050, the largest reduction of all scenarios. A scenario that combined extending harvest rotations, utilizing additional harvest residues for bioenergy, and increasing forest productivity resulted in a 12% reduction in net cumulative emissions. Shifting commodities from pulp and paper to bioenergy showed a 7.3% reduction in emissions. In contrast, shortening rotations to increase harvests for bioenergy use resulted in a 5.5% increase in emissions. In summary, model simulations suggest that net emissions could be reduced by up to 14% relative to BAU, depending on the management and HWP-use scenario. Combining multiple scenarios could further enhance reductions. However, realizing the full climate mitigation potential of these forests may be challenging due to socioeconomic barriers to implementation, as well as alternative management objectives that must be considered along with carbon sequestration.


carbon emissions; climate change mitigation; forest carbon; harvested wood products; United States Climate Alliance; Vermont forests


Dugan, Alexa J.; Lichstein, Jeremy W.; Steele, Al; Metsaranta, Juha M.; Bick, Steven; Hollinger, David Y. 2021. Opportunities for forest sector emissions reductions: a state‐level analysis. Ecological Applications. 13: 1-.

Last updated on: June 11, 2021