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U.S. temperate rainforests play starring role storing carbon and regulating earth’s climate

Dominick DellaSala
President and Chief Scientist, Geos Institute
(541) 621-7223

WASHINGTON – Cool rainforests found at high latitudes store significantly more carbon than any other forests in the world, surpassing even tropical rainforests, according to research compiled by leading international ecologists.

Scientists believe these temperate and boreal rainforests, like those that stretch from southeast Alaska through British Columbia and into Washington, Oregon, Montana and Idaho, play a critical role in regulating the Earth’s climate. However, many are as imperiled by logging and resource development as those in the Amazon and throughout the tropics.

That is the case despite the fact that temperate and boreal rainforests contain the carbon equivalent of more than six times the total annual carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels worldwide, according to estimates based on data published by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007. While these cool-weather, high-latitude forests are found across the world, more than one-third of them are found in the United States and Canada. 

Yet, in the United States, less than 14 percent of these important forests are adequately protected, said Dominick DellaSala, chief scientist at the Ashland, Ore.,-based Geos Institute and president of the North America Section of the Society of Conservation Biology.

“As the United States engages in international efforts to prevent deforestation in developing countries, the Obama Administration should protect carbon-rich older forests here at home from logging,” said DellaSala, the lead scientist behind the new findings released today. “The U.S. should lead by example, and we should expect at least as much of ourselves as a nation that we ask of others, especially those with fewer resources to address deforestation.”

Researchers and conservationists in the United States, Canada, Chile, and Australia echoed DellaSala’s call to the Obama administration today, issuing similar requests today for swift government action to protect temperate and boreal rainforests in their countries.

The call to protect those important forests come with the public unveiling of a new book, Temperate and Boreal Forests: Ecology and Conservation,” set to be released by Island Press early next year. The book is the culmination of years of research from more than 30 scientists across the world.

“The great temperate rainforests of many other countries are long gone” said Paul Alaback, professor emeritus of Forest Ecology at the University of Montana and one of the book’s co-authors. “The US has some of the most significant remaining temperate rainforests on federal lands in the world and has the responsibility to move swiftly to protect them,” he said.

Among the key findings of the research:

  • Temperate and boreal rainforests are found in only ten regions of the world totaling 250 million acres with 35 percent in the United States and Canada.
  • Temperate and boreal rainforests world-wide store more carbon per acre than tropical rainforests, a total of roughly 196 gigatonnes of carbon — the equivalent of six times the annual carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels worldwide. (2007)
  • In the US, the top ten national forests with the highest carbon storage are in western Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. These rainforests store nearly 9.8 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents or roughly twice the amount of the nation’s emissions from burning fossil fuels annually.
  • The Tongass National Forest in Alaska holds one-third of the world’s old growth temperate rainforest, making it one of the world’s largest old growth, temperate rainforest.
  • Only 14 percent of these cool-weather, high-latitude rainforests are protected from logging and resource development globally.
  • Rainforests in northeastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana, are one of only two temperate rainforests worldwide that are not found along a coastline.

For more information visit: or

Randi Spivak, Vice-President for Government Affairs, Geos Institute(310) 779-4894,
Paul Alaback, Professor of Forest Ecology, University of Montana, (970) 227-4745,

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