Acting Local: Pacific Northwest
When it comes to carbon sequestration—the technical term for locking away carbon dioxide in soil and vegetation—not all trees are created equal. In the Pacific Northwest, where TPL is actively protecting large landscapes, the combination of Douglas firs, hemlocks, alders, and bigleaf maples outperform other trees on the carbon front. Richard Corff, senior director of national field programs at TPL, says the forests of the West Coast and Northwest capture and store more carbon than almost any others in the country.
“It has to do with the size, density, and growth of these trees,” he explains. “Trees grow year-round and very quickly here, and they draw carbon out of the air and soil continuously in order to put on mass.”
For this reason, our long relationships with companies that own and maintain working forests are critical. For the past 30 years, TPL has partnered with forest owners and Washington State Department of Natural Resources to protect thousands of acres of forests around Puget Sound. These areas will remain in active timber production, but will allow trees to grow longer and bigger, thus increasing their carbon-capture value. This has equally important benefits of also protecting water quality and wildlife habitat.
Since the mid-1970s, TPL has conserved some 143,000 acres in western Washington state. “We are hemorrhaging open space in this country, losing 6,000 acres . . . a day to development,” Corff says. That’s roughly equivalent to losing a Washington, DC, every week. “Preventing conversion is a huge need on the ground. Every one of those 6,000 acres that ends up being converted is carbon that’s not getting stored.” By conservative estimates, 6,000 acres in western Washington can store about 660,000 metric tons of carbon, or the equivalent of 272 million gallons of gasoline.
“We must protect the spaces that are still natural because once the trees come down and the soils are disturbed, that’s more carbon that goes into the atmosphere,” Shane notes. “You want to conserve those areas for all their natural beauty and resilience and to keep the carbon in place.”