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Scientists Study Fire Management and Carbon Sequestration in Forests

Photo of A March 2013 prescribed fire burning at the Cedar Bridge carbon flux tower in the New Jersey Pinelands. Recovery following prescribed fires is rapid, and stands can replace released carbon within 2-3 years. Kenneth Clark, USDA Forest ServiceA March 2013 prescribed fire burning at the Cedar Bridge carbon flux tower in the New Jersey Pinelands. Recovery following prescribed fires is rapid, and stands can replace released carbon within 2-3 years. Kenneth Clark, USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Forest Service scientists quantified rates of carbon sequestration by forests before and after prescribed burns were conducted by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service. Uptake of carbon dioxide during the summer following spring burns averaged 79 percent of pre-burn levels; and, it takes treated forests only 2 to 3 years to accumulate the amount of carbon released from the litter layer and understory during the fire.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Clark, Ken 
Research Location : New Jersey
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2013
Highlight ID : 490

Summary

Forest Service scientists measured the consumption of understory vegetation and forest floor by fires and the net carbon dioxide (CO2) exchange in forest stands. Prescribed fires in the New Jersey Pinelands conducted by the New Jersey Forest Fire Service released an average of 2.9 +- 1.5 megagrams carbon per hectare, equivalent to about 2 years of sequestered carbon. Recovery of canopy and understory foliage was rapid, and during the next growing season, CO2 uptake at near-full sunlight conditions averaged 79 percent of pre-burn levels. Measurements and calibrated simulation models indicate that annual CO2 uptake is reduced during the first 2 years after prescribed burns, and then stands begin to accumulate carbon at pre-burn levels by the third year. All stands reached carbon neutrality within 2 to 3 years, meaning that forests accumulated the equivalent amount of carbon released by the fire over this time period. The research indicates that fuel reduction treatments to reduce wildfire risk and protect lives and property may not involve large reductions in the ability of forests to sequester carbon and likely will not strongly affect future mitigation measures to reduce climate change.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Nicholas Skowronski & Michael Gallagher, New Lisbon, NJ
  • New Jersey Forest Fire Service
  • Portland State University
  • Rutgers University, Newark & New Brunswick, NJ

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