Can we store carbon and have our timber and habitat too?
With the passage of the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act of 1960, the U.S. Forest Service has managed its 193 million acres of forest and grassland for multiple uses, including timber, watersheds, and wildlife. Using today's terminology, some of these purposes are considered ecosystem services, which encompass a breadth of benefits provided by forests, including their ability to absorb and store atmospheric carbon, a greenhouse gas linked to climate change. National forests are now working to mitigate climate change, but the tradeoffs involved in managing for multiple ecosystem services are not well understood. Using landscape-scale datasets of forest vegetation, carbon storage estimates, and wildlife habitat profiles, scientists with the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station simulated the effects of various management plans on timber harvests, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage in forests of the western Cascade Range. They found that ecosystem services may be complementary, competitive, or neutral (e.g., a change in one service has little effect on other services). For example, carbon sequestration is potentially competitive with timber harvests and creating wildlife habitat for the western bluebird, but can be complementary to maintaining habitat for the northern spotted owl and the red tree vole. By using this tradeoff management framework, land managers will have a better understanding of the multiple ecosystem services a management plan may provide.