Douglas-fir in western Washington. USDA Forest Service photo by Connie Harrington.
One approach to mitigating climate change is to capitalize on the ability of trees to absorb atmospheric carbon. In terms of policy, this can be accomplished using a variety of approaches. Evaluating policy alternatives for mitigating climate change depends on anticipating the potential carbon sequestration benefits likely to result from different policy alternatives.
The Council on Food, Agricultural and Resource Economics convened a team of researchers, including Jeff Kline, a research forester with the PNW Research Station, to estimate the benefits of forest carbon sequestration in the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii) for a baseline and three policy scenarios: (1) land use policy to reduce forest development; (2) afforestation policy targeting rural landowners in the eastern United States and a reforestation policy targeting federal forest lands in the Western United States; and (3) policy reducing stand-replacing wildfires by 10 percent. Carbon sequestration projections were expressed in terms of dollar value of benefits, based on the social value of carbon estimates.
Gaining carbon benefits with afforestation and reforestation
Their results suggest that under the baseline scenario, the present value of sequestration in U.S. forests through 2050 would be $125.5 to $806.7 billion, depending on the discount rate. Afforestation and reforestation policies would provide the greatest marginal increase in carbon benefits ($21.4 to $147.1 billion), well in excess of policy costs.
Afforestation and reforestation have long been featured in conservation efforts by the U.S Department of Agriculture. This analysis demonstrates that such approaches would be viable for mitigating climate change. Strategies for encouraging greater carbon sequestration in the United States include creating financial incentives to induce private landowners to plant trees and emphasizing reforestation of public forest lands.