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Can fuel-reduction treatments really increase forest carbon storage in the western US by reducing future fire emissions?

Author(s): John L. Campbell, Mark E. Harmon, Stephen R. Mitchell
Year Published: 2011
Description:

It has been suggested that thinning trees and other fuel-reduction practices aimed at reducing the probability of high-severity forest fire are consistent with efforts to keep carbon (C) sequestered in terrestrial pools, and that such practices should therefore be rewarded rather than penalized in C-accounting schemes. By evaluating how fuel treatments, wildfire, and their interactions affect forest C stocks across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, we conclude that this is extremely unlikely. Our review reveals high C losses associated with fuel treatment, only modest differences in the combustive losses associated with high-severity fire and the low-severity fire that fuel treatment is meant to encourage, and a low likelihood that treated forests will be exposed to fire. Although fuel-reduction treatments may be necessary to restore historical functionality to fire-suppressed ecosystems, we found little credible evidence that such efforts have the added benefit of increasing terrestrial C stocks.

Citation: Campbell, John L.; Harmon, Mark E.; Mitchell, Stephen R. 2011. Can fuel-reduction treatments really increase forest carbon storage in the western US by reducing future fire emissions? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 10(2): 83-90.
Topic(s): Fire & Climate, Carbon Sequestration, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article, Synthesis
NRFSN number: 8300
FRAMES RCS number: 11451
Record updated: May 24, 2018