Fire & Climate
In the United States (US), forest ecosystems are the largest terrestrial carbon sink, offsetting the equivalent of >12 % of economy-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions annually. In the Western US, wildfires have shaped much of the landscape by changing forest structure and composition, increasing tree mortality, impacting forest regeneration, and influencing forest carbon storage and sequestration capacity. Here, we used remeasurements of >25,000 plots from the US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program and auxiliary information (e.g., Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity) to characterize the role of fire along with other natural and anthropogenic drivers on estimates of carbon stocks, stock changes, and sequestration capacity on forest land in the Western US. Several biotic (e.g., tree size, species, and forest structure) and abiotic factors (e.g., warm climate, severe drought, compound disturbances, and anthropogenic interventions) influenced post-fire tree mortality and regeneration and had concomitant impacts on carbon stocks and sequestration capacity. Forest ecosystems in a high severity and low frequency wildfire regime had greater reductions in aboveground biomass carbon stocks and sequestration capacity compared to forests in a low severity and high frequency fire regime. Results from this study can improve our understanding of the role of wildfire along with other biotic and abiotic drivers on carbon dynamics in forest ecosystems in the Western US.