NC State Extension Publications

Climate Smart Forestry (CSF)

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Climate smart forestry (CSF) is a recent ‘buzz word’ among forestry communities in the United States, specifically in the policy front. It is a targeted and long-term strategy to augment climate benefits from forests and the forest sector in a manner that complements other forest-based goods and services. Ultimately, CSF enables “forests and society to transform, adapt to, and mitigate climate-induced changes” (Bowditch et al., 2020). While the concept is relatively newer, landowners and managers have already been adopting and applying several CSF strategies to active forest resource management in the United States.

Forests are considered a crucial element of the carbon cycle and they play a vital role in regulating, mitigating, and adapating climate change impacts. Improper forest management contributes up to 17% of global carbon emissions (FAO, 2021). However, forests also have the potential to sequester approximately 10% of the carbon projected to be emitted across the globe from 2000 to 2050 (FAO, 2021). Further, wood-based forest products continue to store carbon after removal from forests, the duration of which depends on use. CSF strategies not only deal with reducing greenhouse gas emissions but also ensure adaptive forest management for resiliency and sustainable supply of forest-based good and services (Fig 1).

A framework of climate smart forestry

Fig 1. A framework of climate smart forestry

Climate Smart Forestry Practices

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Some of the common forest management practices that are consistent with CSF strategies include:

  • Thinning and harvesting operations to limit overcrowding and promote sustainable growth
  • Prescribed fire applications to manage fuel loads and reduce wildfire risk
  • Site preparation practices such as bedding and herbicide prescriptions may help trees defend themselves against current and new threats such as pests and competing vegetation
  • Planting diverse mixture of species or genetic traits to decrease chances of extensive forest loss

Why Should We Practice Climate Smart Forestry?

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Research suggests that climate change has direct influenes on the following aspects of forestry and forest-based goods and services:

  • Forest health: climate-stressed trees will not be able to defend themselves as well against native and non-native pests and diseases
  • Wildfire risk: increased instances of drought, extreme weather events, and forest stress will likely contribute to higher risks of wildfires
  • Water quantity and quality: surface and ground water availability and usability will fluctuate with changes in precipitation
  • Wildlife: temperature changes will alter wildlife populations through the timing and availability of forage
  • Timber production: while increased atmospheric carbon dioxide may increase timber growth, this growth will be dependent on the availability of water
  • Soil productivity: higher temperatures and increased instances and intensity of droughts can facilitate soil compaction if forestry best management practices are not used
  • Emerging forest-based bioproducts and technology: the forest products industry continues to evolve through emerging products and technologies that store carbon such as mass timber, bio-plastics, woody biomass for heating and electricity generation replacing carbon intensive sources, and biochar

USDA’s Initiatives on Climate Smart Forestry

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provides technical and financial assistance to private forest landowners to implement climate-smart practices through voluntary programs such as the Conservation Technical Assistance Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program as well as grants and partnerships such as Conservation Innovation Grants.

The USDA recently announced the Climate-Smart Agriculture and Forestry (CSAF) Partnership Program, a new initiative to fund the implementation of climate-smart farming and forestry activities and support markets for climate-smart commodities. This will involve development of a suite of pilot projects that incentivize deployment of climate-smart practices and to measure and monitor the carbon and greenhouse gas benefits resulting from climate-smart practices.

Similarly, the USDA also developed a new intiative, the Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities opportunity, which will fund up to $1 billion for pilot projects that assist farmers, ranchers, and forest owners through climate smart practices in increasing resilience, expanding market opportunities for commodities, and strengthening rural America. For more information, see the additional resources below.

Forest Carbon Markets as a Tool of Forest Management

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Forest carbon markets are becoming a more feasible opportunity for private landowners with limited forest landholdings to earn income from carbon stored on their lands. For instance, the Natural Capital Exchange (NCX) is available to private forest landowners regardless of forest tract size, as there is no minimum acreage requirement, to participate in their voluntary carbon market based on annual deferred harvests. Meanwhile, the American Forestry Foundation (AFF) and The Nature Conservancy (TNC) recently partnered to create the Family Forest Carbon program which is a voluntary market of 10- to 20-year projects such as Growing Mature Forests and Enhancing Future Forests. The AFF/TNC Family Forest Carbon is available to landowners with at least 30 acres of forestland. For more information on carbon markets, please visit An Introduction to Forest Carbon Offset Markets or Current Forest Carbon Markets at a Glance.

Additional Related Resources and References

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Additional Resources



Research Associate
Forestry & Environmental Resources
Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Forest Economics
Forestry & Environmental Resources

Find more information at the following NC State Extension websites:

Publication date: Feb. 11, 2022

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