Researchers: Forest carbon still plentiful post-wildfire after century of fire exclusion

More information for our discussions of carbon and forests. From Penn State:

“Forests in Yosemite National Park hold more carbon today than they did 120 years ago despite burning in a severe wildfire in 2013, according to a Penn State-led team of researchers.”

Yes, but fires — such as the Rim Fire — burned the large amounts of fuel that accumulated in those 120 years and gave off huge amounts of CO2.

“Fire exclusion has probably allowed a lot of carbon to accumulate in the western United States,” said Lucas Harris, a postdoctoral scholar in Penn State’s Department of Geography. “But in the long term it’s not a good ecological or carbon storage strategy because it greatly increases the risk of the forest burning up and killing all the trees.”

The researchers also found that carbon storage across the research site was evenly distributed in the years before fire exclusion. The fire exclusion policy, however, encouraged the growth of less-fire-tolerant tree species that prefer shade and wetter conditions. These trees shifted the concentration of forest carbon to valley bottoms and areas with wetter soils. The Rim Fire burned less severely in these areas and reinforced the geographic shift in forest carbon storage.

“Thinking about carbon storage in terms of where it actually is at the landscape scale is meaningful if you want to manage for carbon storage going into the future,” said Harris. “For a land manager looking at where they might want to use a prescribed fire to reduce surface fuels, or where they might want to go through and thin the forest to reduce fire hazard, having this spatial perspective can be really valuable.”

1 thought on “Researchers: Forest carbon still plentiful post-wildfire after century of fire exclusion”

  1. I like to use Yosemite National Park for examples of how fires burn in ‘natural’ forests. Even if the ignition source is human-caused, we’ll still be able to learn about how those types of forests burn. Sadly, the old growth in the Park is at high risk of complete loss, and in some cases, it has already been lost.

    The first example is near the western border. It’s kind of hard to see the live trees but, the shadows give them away.,-119.8172643,145m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en

    This portion of the Park, near Foresta, has burned 3 times since 1989. Prior to that, it was majestic old growth pine, with a new fir understory coming up. There were big oaks, too. It was a legacy of historic burning. It won’t look like that again, anytime soon.,-119.7486641,291m/data=!3m1!1e3?hl=en


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