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From Farms to Forests: Landscape Carbon Balance after 50 Years of Afforestation, Harvesting, and Prescribed Fire

Author(s): Doug P. Aubrey, John I. Blake, Stanley J. Zarnoch
Year Published: 2019

Establishing reliable carbon baselines for landowners desiring to sustain carbon sequestration and identify opportunities to mitigate land management impacts on carbon balance is important; however, national and regional assessments are not designed to support individual landowners. Such baselines become increasingly valuable when landowners convert land use, change management, or when disturbance occurs. We used forest inventories to quantify carbon stocks, estimate annual carbon fluxes, and determine net biome production (NBP) over a 50-year period coinciding with a massive afforestation effort across ~80,000 ha of land in the South Carolina Coastal Plain. Forested land increased from 48,714 ha to 73,824 ha between 1951 and 2001. Total forest biomass increased from 1.73-3.03 Gg to 17.8-18.3 Gg, corresponding to biomass density increases from 35.6-62.2 Mg ha−1 to 231.4-240.0 Mg ha−1. Harvesting removed 1340.3 Gg C between 1955 and 2001, but annual removals were variable. Fire consumed 527.1 Gg C between 1952 and 2001. Carbon exported by streams was <0.5% of total export. Carbon from roots and other harvested material that remained in-use or in landfills comprised 49.3% of total harvested carbon. Mineral soil carbon accounted for 41.6 to 50% of 2001 carbon stocks when considering depths of 1.0 or 1.5 m, respectively, and was disproportionately concentrated in wetlands. Moreover, we identified a soil carbon deficit of 19-20 Mg C ha−1, suggesting opportunities for future soil carbon sequestration in post-agricultural soils. Our results provide a robust baseline for this site that can be used to understand how land conversion, forest management, and disturbance impacts carbon balance of this landscape and highlight the value of these baseline data for other sites. Our work also identifies the need to manage forests for multiple purposes, especially promotion of soil carbon accumulation in low-density pine savannas that are managed for red-cockaded woodpeckers and therefore demand low aboveground carbon stocks.

Citation: Aubrey, Doug P.; Blake, John I.; Zarnoch, Stanley J. 2019. From farms to forests: landscape carbon balance after 50 years of afforestation, harvesting, and prescribed fire. Forests 10(9):760. https://doi.org/10.3390/f10090760
Topic(s): Fire & Climate, Carbon Sequestration, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 20152
FRAMES RCS number: 58679
Record updated: Oct 17, 2019