Strategic reserves in Oregon to protect biodiversity, water and carbon

Oregon’s old-growth forests store some of the largest amounts of carbon in the United States. Photo George Würthner

A new study, Strategic Reserves in Oregon’s Forests for Biodiversity, Water, and Carbon to Mitigate and Adapt to Climate Changereported in Frontiers in Forests and global climate change, proposes setting aside a strategic forest reserve system in Oregon. About 49% of Oregon is forested, the highest percentage of any western state.

The forests of the Pacific Northwest, including those of Oregon, contain some of the highest carbon density forests in the world. Protecting high-carbon priority forests from logging is key to mitigating accelerating anthropogenic carbon emissions.

In the United States, excluding Alaska, only 6.1% of forest land is protected at the highest level, 4.8% in wilderness areas and 1.1% in national parks, and an amount minor in strictly protected reserves.

Oregon has the largest forest area of ​​any western state, but has preserved only 10% of its forests as wilderness or in other strictly protected lands like national parks.

President Biden’s 30×30 plan to protect 30% of US land and water by 2030 is ambitious but necessary.

Logging on private lands continues to reduce carbon storage, and net carbon storage is 8 times higher on public lands. Photo George Würthner

The Northwest Forest Plan reduced logging by 82%. Between 1990 and 2007, even after controlling for fires and logging, net carbon accumulation on public lands was 8 times that on private lands, where ongoing logging continues to reduce storage carbon.

Numerous conservation studies have concluded that there is an urgent need to conserve up to 50% of the Earth’s water and land by 2050 (50 x 50) to protect biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The best designation of land for preservation is as wilderness areas or national parks, as logging is generally prohibited in these areas.

The study identifies land at the 30 square meter level, land that must be preserved if we are to achieve 50-70% of our forest by 2050. If such a reserve system were put in place, above-ground biomass could increase 4-6 times. by 2050.

The study identifies lands that can protect ancient species to maintain viable wildlife populations. Almost a third (67%) of the proposed reserves are on federal lands, while 28% are on private lands.

Researchers used the latest GAP and other mapping tools to determine the most ecologically significant locations of 544 animal species and 89 tree species across Oregon. They used this information to identify sites with the greatest overlap of animal and forest species. For climate resilience, they used topographic and geophysical features to determine areas where animal and plant movement would likely be sustained in the face of climate change.

Each 30 meter plot was graded according to carbon, biodiversity and climate resilience metrics to produce the design of the reserve.

The areas with the most significant protected forests meeting preservation goals were in the Western Cascades, followed by the Blue Mountains and the Klamath Mountains. Although there were once extensive forests in the Coast Range, much of this land is private forest property that is heavily logged.

One of Oregon’s greatest carbon storage potentials is in the Blue Mountain ecosystem. Photo George Würthner

To achieve the 30 x 30 goals, an additional 2.5 million hectares or approximately 6.1 million acres (20.1%) of Oregon’s forest areas would need to be protected over the next ten years. To achieve the 50×50 goals, approximately 40.1% of Oregon’s unprotected forests must be placed in reserves. The largest remaining opportunities for such reserves exist in the Blue Mountains ecoregion, followed by the Cascades and the Coast Range.

The highest priority lands for biodiversity and carbon needed to meet the 30 x 30 targets (72%) are on federal lands. An additional 1.75 million hectares, or approximately 4.3 million federal lands, must be preserved to meet the 30 x 30 targets.

For example, only 8% of spotted owl and marbled murrelet habitat is strictly protected. If the 30 x 30 were designated, this would increase to 36-44% of the habitat requirements for these species.

Among other benefits, implementing the proposed 30 x 30 reserves would protect 27% of surface drinking water in the state.

The study explicitly mentions the essential areas to protect and extend the conserved lands in each ecosystem. Protecting the 82,000-acre Elliott State Forest in the Coast Range and expanding Devil’s Staircase Wilderness are key.

The Red River flows through the Coast Mountains. Photo George Würthner

In the Klamath Mountains Ecoregion, expanding wilderness protection of the Klamiopsis and Wild Rogue Wilderness areas and designating the roadless lands of Zane Gray as wilderness would help create reserve areas in this region. .

The Crater Lake Wilderness proposal would protect nearly 500,000 acres of land surrounding Crater Lake. Photo George Würthner

In the Cascades, the area surrounding Crater Lake is part of the proposed Crater Lake Wilderness which would enact a wilderness designation for over 500,000 acres of land.

The Blue Mountain ecoregion is the largest in the state and offers some of the best opportunities for protecting mature and old-growth forests. A special expansion of the lands surrounding the Eagle Cap Wilderness is recommended.

Even though global warming leads to an increase in wildfires, the majority of charred areas are of low to moderate severity, creating a mosaic of mixed patches of burns. However, even very severe burns maintain significant carbon storage in snags, underground roots, and charcoal. At the same time, logging and the production of wood products are a major source of carbon emissions, including in Oregon.

The good news is that there are still enough mature and old-growth forests in Oregon to meet the 30×30 and 50×50 goals if all recommended reserves were designated.

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