Carbon dynamics of Oregon and Northern California forests and potential land-based carbon storage


  • Corresponding Editor: A. D. McGuire.


Net uptake of carbon from the atmosphere (net ecosystem production, NEP) is dependent on climate, disturbance history, management practices, forest age, and forest type. To improve understanding of the influence of these factors on forest carbon stocks and flux in the western United States, federal inventory data and supplemental field measurements at additional plots were used to estimate several important components of the carbon balance in forests in Oregon and Northern California during the 1990s. Species- and ecoregion-specific allometric equations were used to estimate live and dead biomass stores, net primary productivity (NPP), and mortality. In the semiarid East Cascades and mesic Coast Range, mean total biomass was 8 and 24 kg C/m2, and mean NPP was 0.30 and 0.78 kg C·m−2·yr−1, respectively. Maximum NPP and dead biomass stores were most influenced by climate, whereas maximum live biomass stores and mortality were most influenced by forest type. Within ecoregions, mean live and dead biomass were usually higher on public lands, primarily because of the younger age class distribution on private lands. Decrease in NPP with age was not general across ecoregions, with no marked decline in old stands (>200 years old) in some ecoregions. In the absence of stand-replacing disturbance, total landscape carbon stocks could theoretically increase from 3.2 ± 0.34 Pg C to 5.9 ± 1.34 Pg C (a 46% increase) if forests were managed for maximum carbon storage. Although the theoretical limit is probably unattainable, given the timber-based economy and fire regimes in some ecoregions, there is still potential to significantly increase the land-based carbon storage by increasing rotation age and reducing harvest rates.