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An Infographic showing the Natural Boom & Bust Cycle of Forest Carbon.
The Natural Boom and Bust Cycle of Forest Carbon

Carbon is the basic building block of forests. Trees naturally absorb carbon dioxide (CO2) through the process of photosynthesis and store it as carbon. That carbon gets locked in the trunks, roots, and leaves of trees and is deposited in surrounding soils for long periods of time.  Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the most pervasive greenhouse gas (GHG) driving rising global temperatures, so forests play a critical role in moderating CO2 and reducing the impact of climate change.

The Forest Service is a leader in developing tools for carbon assessment, management, and forest carbon cycle science. The Forest Service champions the principles of considering carbon and other benefits together, integrating climate adaptation and mitigation, and balancing carbon uptake and storage in a wide range of ecosystem services, some of which have trade-offs.

Learn more about Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Monitoring.

Carbon Assessments

The Forest Service is the primary agency in the U.S. that collects and analyzes data on U.S. trees, the carbon they store, and what returns to the atmosphere after they are harvested or die. Forest Service scientists study how land management, land uses, and land changes affect carbon in the landscape and ways to increase carbon storage.  The Forest Service has always led efforts to practice, develop, and demonstrate sound and sustainable management of forest-based resources. The management of forest carbon is no exception.

An infographic showing the closed loop of Forest Service in the Atmosphere.
The Closed Loop of Forest Carbon in the Atmosphere | Carbon Cycle

The Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program is the basis of national greenhouse gas estimates from forest land use and land use change. FIA estimates on the carbon content among forest types are used by policy makers at local, state, and national levels to estimate the carbon benefits from land management activities and inform climate change mitigation measures.

The Forest Service has developed regional carbon assessment reports to help forest managers and the public understand how much carbon is stored in forest ecosystems and harvested wood products. The baseline forest carbon reports draw information from the FIA program to provide carbon stocks and trends. These reports also provide estimates of carbon stored in harvested wood products over longer time periods depending upon the availability of data. These assessments are provided as a nationally consistent data set with which we can better understand geographic differences and important trends.

Carbon stock and trend information, in conjunction with companion assessments on forest carbon disturbances, help inform forest managers and the public of the relationship between carbon storage and past management and disturbance impacts. This will help us begin to consider short and long-term carbon consequences of alternative forest management strategies.

An infographic showing the Carbon Bathtub of National Forests.
The Carbon Bathtub of National Forests | Carbon Dynamics

Available Carbon Assessment Reports

Baseline Carbon Reports

Disturbance Carbon Reports

Tools for Carbon Inventory, Management, and Reporting

Scientists at the Forest Service Northern Research Station have developed a toolbox of calculation tools to help quantify forest carbon for planning and reporting.. 

Other tools include:

  •  i-Tree is a suite of online tools and freely available software packages developed by the Forest Service and cooperators to support ecosystem service assessment, including carbon sequestration from urban and rural forest management.
  • GTR-NE-343 - Methods for calculating forest ecosystem and harvested carbon with standard estimates for forest types of the United States & accompanying spreadsheet-based carbon calculator1  offer methods, sample calculations, and regional average carbon stocks as tables (aka ‘look-up tables’) for 51 major forest types across ten geographic regions in the conterminous U.S.  
  • GTR-NRS-202 - Standard Estimates of Forest Ecosystem Carbon for Forest Types of the United States2  updates ecosystem carbon stock methodologies and estimates developed previously in GTR-NE-343. These estimates are based on results from the Forest Vegetation Simulator.
  • The Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) is a suite of software incorporating forest growth simulation modeling that can quantify vegetation change and carbon flux in response to natural succession, disturbances, and management.

Carbon Resources

Forest Service Research and Development factsheets on carbon:

Other resources: