Management of forest carbon stocks on public lands is critical to maintaining or enhancing carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere. Acknowledging this, an array of federal regulations and policies have emerged that requires US National Forests to report baseline carbon stocks and changes due to disturbance and management and assess how management activities and forest plans affect carbon stocks. To address these requirements with the best-available science, we compiled empirical and remotely sensed data covering the National Forests (one fifth of the area of US forest land) and analyzed this information using a carbon modeling framework. We demonstrate how integration of various data and models provides a comprehensive evaluation of key drivers of observed carbon trends, for individual National Forests. The models in this framework complement each other with different strengths: the Carbon Calculation Tool uses inventory data to report baseline carbon stocks; the Forest Carbon Management Framework integrates inventory data, disturbance histories, and growth and yield trajectories to report relative effects of disturbances on carbon stocks; and the Integrated Terrestrial Ecosystem Carbon Model incorporates disturbance, climate, and atmospheric data to determine their relative impacts on forest carbon accumulation and loss. We report results for several National Forests across the USA and compare their carbon dynamics. Results show that recent disturbances are causing some forests to transition from carbon sinks to sources, particularly in the West. Meanwhile, elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide and nitrogen deposition are consistently increasing carbon stocks, partially offsetting declines due to disturbances and aging. Climate variability introduces concomitant interannual variability in net carbon uptake or release. Targeting forest disturbance and post-disturbance regrowth is critical to management objectives that involve maintaining or enhancing future carbon sequestration.

Full citation

Dugan A.J., Birdsey R., Healey S.P., Pan Y., Zhang F., Mo G., Chen J.M., Woodall C.W., Hernandez A.J., McCullough K., McCarter J.B., Raymond C.L., Dante-Wood K. (2017). Forest sector carbon analyses support land management planning and projects: assessing the influence of anthropogenic and natural factors. Climatic Change, 144:207–220. 10.1007/s10584-017-2038-5.