Washington, D.C., April 26 - Each year, U.S. forests take enough carbon dioxide out of the air to account for nearly 235 million cars, a leading forestry expert told Congress today.
Forest trees store more carbon than any other plant, and should be included in any proposal to combat climate change, said Dr. John Helms, professor emeritus of forestry at the University of California, Berkeley and former president of the Society of American Foresters. Helms testified at Thursday's hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, titled: "Dangerous Climate Change."
"Forests are unique in that no other means of sequestering or offsetting carbon has the added benefits of providing clean water, biodiversity, clean air, wildlife habitat, aesthetics, and needed products," Helms said in his written statement.
U.S. forests absorb 200-280 million tons of carbon each year, Helms said, which offsets 12-20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, Helms said. Forest fires also release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, as each acre of forest burnt emits about 100 tons of greenhouse gases, he said. In 2006, 10 million acres burned in the U.S.
Harvesting restrictions on national forests are promoting excessive harvesting in countries with far lower environmental standards than the U.S., Helms said. Also, evidence shows that managed forests are able in the long term to draw more carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere than old forests that aren't managed, he said.
"Scientific research clearly shows the important role forests have in sequestering carbon. How we manage forests here and around the world has an impact on carbon mitigation. If we are facing warmer temperatures and greater droughts, then it becomes even more important to make sure our forests are better managed than they are today," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., a member of the select committee.
"If you are concerned about climate change, then you should be concerned about the destruction of forests overseas while mismanagement at home encourages our forests to burn at an alarming rate," Walden added. "America's forests should be an example to the world that you can have healthy forests that both sequester carbon and support good jobs. Today's testimony reaffirmed that ignoring America's forests not only ensures that forests abroad will be wiped out without an environmental review, but that unmanaged forests are counterproductive in the fight against climate change."
Additionally, wood is an energy efficient material for building and new opportunities are emerging to use woody biomass for power generation and biofuels, he said.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., the select committee's ranking Republican said Dr. Helms' testimony shows that there are many positive solutions that address the issue of climate change.
"I am pleased that Dr. John Helms offers climate change solutions that will not only protect American jobs, but also give us healthier forests," Sensenbrenner said.