There were valid reasons to preserve old-growth areas of the Tongass National Forest, including watershed, biodiversity, recreation and tourism. Nevertheless, there is one more important function of old-growth forests that I have not heard being addressed and that is carbon sequestration.
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I have done a significant amount of reading on climate change related to global warming. Most of the reliable scientific studies I have found show that old-growth forests sequester huge amounts of carbon for long periods (up to 100 years or more). Carbon is locked up not only in the trees themselves but, perhaps more importantly, in the soils of these old-growth areas. When old-growth forests are cut, the trees' roots decay, the soil is disturbed and carbon dioxide previously held in the soil is released. It would take nearly 200 years for newly planted trees to make up for this release of carbon.
The United States and some other nations have been negotiating to achieve as much as 50 percent of their greenhouse gas reductions not by reducing emissions at the source, but by creating carbon "sinks" through newly planted forests. There is emerging scientific consensus that pursuit of plantation forestry to sequester carbon may in fact lead to greater carbon release if planting occurs on former old-growth areas.
The planting of new trees is very important, but should not be done at the expense of old-growth forests. Any management plan for the Tongass National Forest should take this into consideration and provide for the preservation of old-growth forest areas.
Recently, five western states (California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona and New Mexico) and the province of British Colombia signed an agreement to begin trading carbon credits. What better way to fund our rural schools than to sell carbon credits for our old-growth forests rather than clear-cutting them?