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Resource objective wildfire leveraged to restore old growth forest structure while stabilizing carbon stocks in the southwestern United States

Year of Publication
2024
Publication Type

Wildfire futures and aboveground carbon (C) dynamics associated with forest restoration programs that integrate resource objective wildfire as part of a larger treatment strategy are not well understood. Using simulation modeling, we examined alternative forest and fuel management strategies on a 237,218-ha study area within a 778,000-ha landscape that is a high priority target for federal restoration programs. We simulated two wildfire management scenarios combined with three levels of conventional forest restoration treatments over 64 years using a detailed landscape disturbance and succession model developed in prior work. We found accelerated forest restoration used in concert with resource objective wildfire was the most effective at returning old growth forest structure, while stabilizing aboveground C stocks and restoring the fire return interval to its historic range of variation. In scenarios without forest restoration, the continued practice of resource objective wildfires during shoulder fire seasons reduced summer emissions in a negative feedback loop. In the short term, scenarios without forest restoration increased live tree C, but also increased the likelihood of C loss during wildfire activity driven by extreme fire weather. We found scenarios most effective at restoring fire-excluded pine forests to their historical old growth conditions came at a short-term cost of lost C, but with the long-term benefit of substantially increasing fire-resistant live tree C. Our results inform how local decision making can best balance competing goals of sequestering C, and stabilizing C stocks in frequent-fire pine forests using the principles of local fire ecology to restore and maintain old growth forest structure.

Authors
Jesse D. Young, Alan A. Ager
Citation

Jesse D. Young, Alan A. Ager, Resource objective wildfire leveraged to restore old growth forest structure while stabilizing carbon stocks in the southwestern United States, Ecological Modelling, Volume 488, 2024, 110573, ISSN 0304-3800, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2023.110573.

Publication Topics