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


Stephens, Scott L.; Boerner, Ralph E. J.; Moghaddas, Jason J.; Moghaddas, Emily E. Y.; Collins, Brandon M.; Dow, Christopher B.; Edminster, Carl; Fiedler, Carl E.; Fry, Danny L.; Hartsough, Bruce R.; Keeley, Jon E.; Knapp, Eric E.; McIver, James D.; Skinner, Carl N.; Youngblood, Andrew. 2012. Fuel treatment impacts on estimated wildfire carbon loss from forests in Montana, Oregon, California, and Arizona. Ecosphere. 3(5): Article 38.

doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/ES11-00289.1

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.

Keywords: carbon sequestration, fire suppression, fire surrogates, fuel management, mixed conifer, Pinus ponderosa, wildfire


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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Fuel treatment impacts on estimated wildfire carbon loss from forests in Montana, Oregon, California, and Arizona
Electronic Publish Date: August 15, 2012
Last Update:
August 15, 2012

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