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Old-growth forests: One of our most precious natural carbon sinks, fewer in numbers than ever

The US Forest Service defines old-growth forests as “ecosystems distinguished by old trees and related structural attributes. Old growth encompasses the later stages of stand development that typically differ from younger stages in a variety of characteristics that may include tree size, accumulations of large dead woody material, number of canopy layers, species composition and ecosystem function.” These old-growth forests used to be prevalent all across the United States however they are few and far between now. Out of the entire 1.9 billion acres of land that make up the United States, only 3.7 million acres are made up of old-growth forests. This is roughly 19.5 percent of the entire United States based on data from the US National Forest Service and the University of Washington. Old-growth forests used to make up over 90% of the United States in the mid-1800s. Old-growth forests are incredibly important to our climate, as they sequester large amounts of carbon, helping to lower atmospheric CO2 significantly and sustainably. A forest can be defined as a thick growth of trees and bushes in an area. As previously mentioned, forests make excellent carbon sinks. A carbon sink for those unfamiliar can be defined as anything that absorbs significantly more carbon than it releases, this includes

the ocean, soil and forests. This is because of the sequestering power of both the trees and bushes as well as the soil. Trees and bushes, which are autotrophic (create their own energy), photosynthetic organisms, which through the process of photosynthesis absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as well as sunlight and H2O. The water is then oxidized (loses electrons) while the carbon dioxide is reduced (gains electrons), this transforms the water into carbon dioxide and carbon dioxide into glucose (energy in the form of sugar), The tree then releases the oxygen back into the atmosphere and utilizes the glucose to store energy. According to the US Forest Service, America’s forests currently sequester 866 million tons of carbon a year, which is roughly 16% of the US annual emissions. This is just the forests in America as well, if we look past our borders at the global effect forests have on CO2, it’s astounding. With global CO2 levels on the rise and climate change having a myriad of serious effects ranging from changes in weather, storm severity, frequency of natural disasters and even the slowing of jetstreams. The climate crisis is now, however, the issue of deforestation is not purely in the interest of the climate. It is also in the interest of the ecosystems that inhabit said forests, including temperate, tropical and arboreal. Forests are home to most of the world’s organisms and leaders in species/ecosystem biodiversity. This is why we must do everything we can to protect our forests both for the value as a method of carbon sequestration and as a natural resource and safe haven for biodiversity. There are many things each of us can do, as both citizens of the country we reside in and inhabitants of the Earth. It can be as small as staying informed on statewide and federal policies regarding forest protection, or going on a government-run forest service/conservation website to stay updated on issues in the area or lack thereof. But if one desires to take it a step further, there are plenty of activism opportunities everywhere, ranging from peer education to protesting policies/disagreeable acts. It’s not all doom and gloom, but it’s important to stay educated and act when necessary.

https://rachelcarsoncouncil.org/can-american-forests-save-planet/

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