Fuel treatment impacts on estimated wildfire carbon loss from forests in Montana, Oregon, California, and Arizona

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Using forests to sequester carbon in response to anthropogenically induced climate change is being considered across the globe. A recent U.S. executive order mandated that all federal agencies account for sequestration and emissions of greenhouse gases, highlighting the importance of understanding how forest carbon stocks are influenced by wildfire. This paper reports the effects of the most common forest fuel reduction treatments on carbon pools composed of live and dead biomass as well as potential wildfire emissions from six different sites in four western U.S. states. Additionally, we predict the median forest product life spans and uses of materials removed during mechanical treatments. Carbon loss from modeled wildfire-induced tree mortality was lowest in the mechanical plus prescribed fire treatments, followed by the prescribed fire-only treatments. Wildfire emissions varied from 10–80 Mg/ha and were lowest in the prescribed fire and mechanical followed by prescribed fire treatments at most sites. Mean biomass removals per site ranged from approximately 30–60 dry Mg/ha; the median lives of products in first use varied considerably (from <10 to >50 years). Our research suggests most of the benefits of increased fire resistance can be achieved with relatively small reductions in current carbon stocks. Retaining or growing larger trees also reduced the vulnerability of carbon loss from wildfire. In addition, modeled vulnerabilities to carbon losses and median forest product life spans varied considerably across our study sites, which could be used to help prioritize treatment implementation.

Study Area

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Fuel treatment impacts on estimated wildfire carbon loss from forests in Montana, Oregon, California, and Arizona
Series title Ecosphere
DOI 10.1890/ES11-00289.1
Volume 3
Issue 5
Year Published 2012
Language English
Publisher Ecological Society of America
Publisher location Washington, D.C.
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description Art. 38: 17 p.
Country United States
State California, Oregon, Montana, Arizona
Other Geospatial Klamath National Forest, Eldorado/Stanislaus/Tahoe National Forests, Sequoia-King National Forest, Wallowa-Whitman/Malheur/Umatilla National Forests, Lolo National Forest, Coconino/Kaibab National Forest
Online Only (Y/N) N
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N
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