Study: Forest restoration as a strategy to mitigate climate change impacts

Study from Northern Arizona University “found the negative effects of climate change and wildfire, although significant and worrisome, could be mitigated by targeted forest restoration, thus reducing undesirable outcomes for multiple ecosystem services.”

“Although this study did not recommend courses of action, there are suggestions for forest managers. Flatley said managers from the U.S. Forest Service and National Parks Service can use the study to help decide whether to allocate limited resources to frequent restoration of smaller areas or less frequent restoration of larger areas.”

11 thoughts on “Study: Forest restoration as a strategy to mitigate climate change impacts”

  1. This seems kind of straightforward to me (roots keep soil from sliding into the creek), but I’d like to see the paper.

      • I would guess that those folks might be OK with forms of restoration that don’t involve tree cutting or removal. That’s the problem with abstractions such as “restoration” you can talk right past each other if you use the same word and mean different practices…

    • The increase in emissions from your single comment is certainly able to be estimated. Firestorms in overstocked forests add emissions in ways you might not think about. Hell, even prescribed burns add emissions.

    • What if “restoration” reduces future emissions of greenhouse gases? And results in lower danger to people, property, and other resource values?

      • The science just does not back up the suggestion that “restoration” or fuel reduction reduces emissions. This has been explained on this blog many times, but it doesn’t seem to sink in.

        There’s just too little interaction between fuel treatments and wildfires because no one can predict where or when fires will occur. Most fuel reduction treatments will therefore cause GHG emissions, without providing any benefits in terms of moderating fire behavior or GHG emissions.

        Let’s start with a simple truism of risk management: “Speculative negative emissions technologies may be worse than chimeras if they result in the false comfort that continued … emissions can simply be offset, thereby diverting financial and policy resources from conventional mitigation. This would be reckless. It is clearly less risky not to emit a tonne of CO2 in the first place, than to emit one in expectation of being able to sequester it for an unknown period of time, at unknown cost, with unknown consequences, at an unknown date and place in the future.” Carbon Brief staff 2016. In-depth: Experts assess the feasibility of ‘negative emissions’ citing Rob Bailey, Director of Energy, Environment and Resources, Chatham House.

        Law & Harmon (2011) conducted a literature review and concluded that “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

        • Then, there’s the fact that projects are proposed and carried out with other multiple benefits, including climate and non-climate, in mind. Additionally, it depends upon the site conditions and the term of the treatment(s). Yes, we have seen old growth mixed conifer stands turned into incinerated landscapes that can barely support brush species. Yes we DO need to factor in those significant facts that severely affect climate (and other forest values). Solely focusing on climate impacts and effects can lead to a worse disaster, ecosystem-wise. Trading old growth habitats for severely-burned (and re-burned) landscapes is not a rational idea.

        • We can discuss why it doesn’t sink in.. perhaps in response to Atkin’s piece I just posted? We’ll also be talking more about negative emissions next week.. but I don’t see the link between fuels treatments and “speculative emissions technologies” which I think more of as CCS. Again, definitions and abstractions, but is PB a “speculative technology”? Not in my book.

  2. ” That’s the problem with abstractions such as “restoration” you can talk right past each other if you use the same word and mean different practices…”

    That’s what “Definition Shell Games” were invented in the first place. I mean who knew genetic modification in a Lab was identical to historical conventional breeding practices done for centuries ? *sigh* Welcome to the latest abnormal.

    • That used to be my world GE regulation. So I checked what folks are up to now.. It seems like it’s gotten more complicated with CRISPR but also talking about the same regulatory process we were then (2001). I’ve always disagreed with the Academy’s basic line of thinking because the production and the product are intertwined..
      “Like several National Academies reviews before it, the new study condemned regulatory approaches that classify products based on the technology used to create them. “The National Academy has been saying since 1987 that it should be the product, not the process,” says Fred Gould, an applied evolutionary biologist at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, and chair of the new report. “But the problem up until now is … how do you decide which products need more examination than others?”

      There, the report makes a new suggestion: Regulators should ask for a full analysis of a plant’s composition—using modern “-omics” tools such as genome sequencing and analysis of the proteins and small molecules in a sample—to determine when a full safety review is necessary. The authors propose that crops containing different genes, producing a different set of proteins, or carrying out different metabolic reactions than conventionally bred varieties should trigger regulatory review if those differences have potential health or environmental impacts. And if a trait is so new that there’s no conventional counterpart to compare it to … just go ahead and regulate it, they conclude.

      The approach is reasonable, Kuiken says, but it’s not clear how to implement it. “How close does it have to be to the counterpart before you have to do a full review?””


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