The Effect of Forest Management Strategy on Carbon Storage and Revenue in Western Washington: A Probabilistic Simulation of Tradeoffs

Risk Anal. 2017 Jan;37(1):173-192. doi: 10.1111/risa.12611. Epub 2016 May 10.


The objectives of this study are to understand tradeoffs between forest carbon and timber values, and evaluate the impact of uncertainty in improved forest management (IFM) carbon offset projects to improve forest management decisions. The study uses probabilistic simulation of uncertainty in financial risk for three management scenarios (clearcutting in 45- and 65-year rotations and no harvest) under three carbon price schemes (historic voluntary market prices, cap and trade, and carbon prices set to equal net present value (NPV) from timber-oriented management). Uncertainty is modeled for value and amount of carbon credits and wood products, the accuracy of forest growth model forecasts, and four other variables relevant to American Carbon Registry methodology. Calculations use forest inventory data from a 1,740 ha forest in western Washington State, using the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) growth model. Sensitivity analysis shows that FVS model uncertainty contributes more than 70% to overall NPV variance, followed in importance by variability in inventory sample (3-14%), and short-term prices for timber products (8%), while variability in carbon credit price has little influence (1.1%). At regional average land-holding costs, a no-harvest management scenario would become revenue-positive at a carbon credit break-point price of $14.17/Mg carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2 e). IFM carbon projects are associated with a greater chance of both large payouts and large losses to landowners. These results inform policymakers and forest owners of the carbon credit price necessary for IFM approaches to equal or better the business-as-usual strategy, while highlighting the magnitude of financial risk and reward through probabilistic simulation.

Keywords: Carbon credits versus timber value accounting; improved forest management tradeoffs; probabilistic simulation; western Washington forestry.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't