Nick Smith lays out forest health/wildfire crisis for THE HILL

Editor’s note:  Great job, Nick!

lone firefighter with truck

There’s been a lot of hand wringing lately among federal officials about American forests, climate change and the “new normal” of longer and unnaturally severe wildfire seasons.  Scientific evidence suggests climate change is contributing to profound ecological changes in our forests.  If policymakers are serious about mitigating these impacts and reducing carbon emissions, they should support efforts to actively manage our federal forests and reduce the size and severity of wildfires.
Wildfire seasons are now on average 78 days longer than the 1970s, and there’s been a sevenfold increase in fires of 10,000 acres or more.  Carbon emissions are expected to increase by 50 percent by 2050, according to university and federal researchers.  This is not a new problem, as NASA estimates that carbon emissions from fires are up 240 percent across the American West since the 1980s.  One study estimates that fires in the U.S. release about 290 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year.  Scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research and the University of California found that wildfires can contribute a larger proportion of the carbon dioxide released in several western and southeastern states.
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2 Responses to Nick Smith lays out forest health/wildfire crisis for THE HILL

  1. Dawn Wiksten says:

    Great article. Great pic too! trying to get this new computer up and running has been a challenge, but looks like I will be more active here again shortly. We have to work together to get DC to wake up and let us utilize our lands again. The freight train is barreling down on us once again. So far we have been lucky. Not so, in many of our surrounding neighbors lands. I am out of patience with the “committees” and discussions. The logging trucks need to head to DC and grid lock the city. Right in the middle of August so they can sit and sweat like we do!

  2. 2ndLaw says:

    When the scientists looked closely at the question whether logging can help reduce climate change, they concluded “Thinning forests to reduce potential carbon losses due to wildfire is in direct conflict with carbon sequestration goals, and, if implemented, would result in a net emission of CO2 to the atmosphere because the amount of carbon removed to change fire behavior is often far larger than that saved by changing fire behavior, and more area has to be harvested than will ultimately burn over the period of effectiveness of the thinning treatment.” Law, B. & M.E. Harmon 2011. Forest sector carbon management, measurement and verification, and discussion of policy related to mitigation and adaptation of forests to climate change. Carbon Management 2011 2(1).

    Campbell and Agar (2013) conducted a sensitivity analysis and found robust results indicating that fuel reduction does not increase forest carbon storage. “… we attempt to remove some of the confusion surrounding this subject by performing a sensitivity analysis wherein long-term, landscape-wide carbon stocks are simulated under a wide range of treatment efficacy, treatment lifespan, fire impacts, forest recovery rates, forest decay rates, and the longevity of wood products. Our results indicate a surprising insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks to both management and biological variables. After 80 years, … a 1600% change in either treatment application rate or efficacy in arresting fire spread resulted in only a 10% change in total system carbon. This insensitivity of long-term carbon stocks is due in part by the infrequency of treatment/wildfire interaction and in part by the controls imposed by maximum forest biomass. None of the fuel treatment simulation scenarios resulted in increased system carbon.” Campbell, J, Agar, A (2013. Forest wildfire, fuel reduction treatments, and landscape carbon stocks: A sensitivity analysis. Journal of Environmental Management 121 (2013) 124-132

    Another study concluded ““…reducing the fraction by which C is lost in a wildfire requires the removal of a much greater amount of C, since most of the C stored in forest biomass (stem wood, branches, coarse woody debris) remains unconsumed even by high-severity wildfires. For this reason, all of the fuel reduction treatments simulated for the west Cascades and Coast Range ecosystems as well as most of the treatments simulated for the east Cascades resulted in a reduced mean stand C storage…. We suggest that forest management plans aimed solely at ameliorating increases in atmospheric CO2 should forego fuel reduction treatments …” Mitchell, Harmon, O’Connell. 2009. Forest fuel reduction alters fire severity and long-term carbon storage in three Pacific Northwest ecosystems. Ecological Applications. 19(3), 2009, pp. 643–655.

    Loehman et al (2014) found “… management of carbon in fire-prone and fire-adapted forests is more complex than simply minimizing wildfire carbon emissions and maximizing stored carbon in individual stands. The stochastic and variable nature of fires, the relatively fine scale over which fuels treatments are implemented, and potentially high carbon costs to implement them suggest that fuel treatments are not an effective method for protecting carbon stocks at a stand level (Reinhardt et al., 2008; Reinhardt and Holsinger, 2010).” Rachel A. Loehman, Elizabeth Reinhardt, Karin L. Riley 2014. Wildland fire emissions, carbon, and climate: Seeing the forest and the trees – A cross-scale assessment of wildfire and carbon dynamics in fire-prone, forested ecosystems. Forest Ecology and Management 317 (2014) 9–19.

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