By Polly C. Buotte et al
Forest carbon sequestration via forest preservation can be a viable climate change mitigation strategy. Here, we identify forests in the western conterminous United States with high potential carbon sequestration and low vulnerability to future drought and fire, as simulated using the Community Land Model and two high carbon emission scenario (RCP 8.5) climate models. High-productivity, low-vulnerability forests have the potential to sequester up to 5,450 Tg CO2 equivalent (1,485 Tg C) by 2099, which is up to 20% of the global mitigation potential previously identified for all temperate and boreal forests, or up to ~6 yr of current regional fossil fuel emissions. Additionally, these forests currently have high above- and below-ground carbon density, high tree species richness, and a high proportion of critical habitat for endangered vertebrate species, indicating a strong potential to support biodiversity into the future and promote ecosystem resilience to climate change. We stress that some forest lands have low carbon sequestration potential but high biodiversity, underscoring the need to consider multiple criteria when designing a land preservation portfolio. Our work demonstrates how process models and ecological criteria can be used to prioritize landscape preservation for mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and preserving biodiversity in a rapidly changing climate.