Restoring forests means less fuel for wildfire and more storage for carbon

More fuel for our continuing discussion of forest restoration (and active management in general), CO2, and wildfires. Mentions the USFS’s Four Foerst Restoration Initiative. Note that “simulations show that despite early decreases in the ecosystem’s stored carbon, a rapid restoration plan increases total carbon storage by 11-20%.”


When wildfires burn up forests, they don’t just damage the trees. They destroy a key part of the global carbon cycle. Restoring those trees as quickly as possible could tip the scale in favor of mitigating severe climate change.

Lisa A. McCauley, a spatial analyst at The Nature Conservancy, explains how quick action to thin out vegetation will actually increase carbon storage in forests by the end of this century. Her new paper is published in the Ecological Society of America’s journal Ecological Applications, and she will present the findings this August at ESA’s 2019 Annual Meeting in Louisville, KY.

“With predictions of widespread mortality of western U.S. forests under climate change,” McCauley states, “our study addresses how large-scale restoration of overly-dense, fire-adapted forests is one of the few tools available to managers that could minimize the adverse effects of climate change and maintain forest cover.”

Forests are a vital carbon sink – a natural sponge that pulls carbon out of the atmosphere through plant photosynthesis. Because carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from human activities are a major cause of climate change, forests do humanity a huge service by disposing of much of its gaseous waste.

Unfortunately, wildfires are more common than they used to be. Higher tree density, more dry wood for fuel, and a warmer, drier climate have caused an increase in the frequency, size, and severity of wildfires in western U.S. forests. Restoring forests in a timely manner is critical in making subsequent wildfires are less likely. The U.S. Forest Service states that rehabilitation and restoration takes many years, and includes planting trees, reestablishing native species, restoring habitats, and treating for invasive plants. There is an urgent need for such restoration in the southwest U.S. to balance out the carbon cycle.

Enter, the Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI). The U.S. Forest Service began the 4FRI in 2010 to restore 2.4 million acres (3750 square miles) of national forests in Arizona. The goals of the 4FRI are to restore the structure, pattern, composition, and health of fire-adapted (dependent on occasional fires for their lifecycle) ponderosa pine ecosystems; reduce fuels and the risk of unnaturally severe wildfires; and provide for wildlife and plant diversity. Doing so involves a full suite of restoration projects that are carried out by US Forest Service personnel, partners and volunteers, and contractors. Managers of the four forests – the Kaibab, Coconino, Apache-Sitgreaves, and Tonto – are engaged in a huge, collaborative initiative to with a diverse group of stakeholders to explore the best methods for restoring the ponderosa pine forests in the region.

One such exploration is a study in which researchers, including McCauley, use computer simulations to see how the carbon cycle and wildfire severity between the years 2010-2099 would be influenced by different rates of restoration of about 1500 square miles of forest.

A potential drawback to a very rapid restoration plan is that it includes the thinning out (harvesting) of dense, dry trees — possibly by controlled burns — to get rid of plants that could act as potential wildfire fuel. Reduction in overall vegetation could mean that the overall carbon uptake and storage of these forests would drop.

“The conventional wisdom has been that forest restoration in the western U.S. does not benefit carbon stocks,” McCauley says. “However, with wildfire size, frequency and severity increasing, we believe that additional research is needed across more forests so that we can better understand the fate of carbon and forest cover, particularly for fire-adapted forests where tree densities exceed historical norms and the risks of climate-induced forest loss are increasing.”

Interestingly, the simulations show that despite early decreases in the ecosystem’s stored carbon, a rapid restoration plan increases total carbon storage by 11-20%, which is about 8-14 million metric tons of carbon by the end of the century. This is equal to the removal of carbon emissions from 67,000-123,000 passenger vehicles per year until 2100.

“By minimizing high-severity fires,” McCauley explains, “accelerated forest thinning can stabilize forest carbon stocks and buy time – decades – to better adapt to the effects of climate change on forest cover.”

Restored forests provide other benefits than just increased carbon storage in the next century. A restored fire-adapted forest would be less dense, with fewer trees but more diversity, allowing more sunlight to penetrate the canopy, increasing cover of grass and encouraging a more diverse understory. The wildfires that do occur would burn at lower severity as ground fires that consume grasses rather than torching canopies that kills trees.

McCauley says this study is unique because it is a large, landscape-scale study that uses data from a real-world restoration project–the largest restoration being implemented in the U.S. The results are indeed promising, indicating that restoration is likely to stabilize carbon and the benefits are greater when the pace of restoration is faster.


38 thoughts on “Restoring forests means less fuel for wildfire and more storage for carbon”

  1. It’s pretty standard on this blog that anytime any new science or research comes out that goes against the timber industry status quo that some commenter(s) will wonder or point out “who funded this study?”

    In the case of this study, it was founded by a $9 billion foundation put together by an heir to the Cargill Corporation.

    Also, since it’s very common for timber industry supporters on this blog to be “curious to know who funds these groups”…..I’ll point out that the paper highlighted in this blog post comes from The Nature Conservancy, which according to their most-recent financial statement on Guidestar had revenue in just 2016 of $1,006,241,963, or over $1 billion dollars.

    But sure, let’s pick on the “Friends of ____” or the “Alliance for ____” which may scrape together $50,000 from members and a couple of small foundations.

      • Since Matt mentioned that the study was funded “by a $9 billion foundation put together by an heir to the Cargill Corporation,” here’s more about that foundation:

        Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies (MACP) supports efforts to enhance quality of life and prevent and relieve suffering of children, families, and seniors; preserve and promote the environment and the arts; and encourage the humane treatment of animals.

        Founded by the late Margaret A. Cargill, MACP actively partners with capable organizations to make a lasting difference for individuals and communities, with particular attention to overlooked causes. MACP’s combined assets (Margaret A. Cargill Foundation and Anne Ray Foundation) place us among the top ten foundations in the United States.

        MACP develops and implements integrated grantmaking strategies across seven programmatic areas we call domains: Arts & Cultures, Disaster Relief & Recovery, Environment, Animal Welfare, Quality of Life, Teachers, and Legacy & Opportunity.

        Our grantmaking approach is rooted in direction from our founder and reflects our Philosophy of Grantmaking.

        Grant proposals are by invitation only, and we do not consider unsolicited requests for support.

  2. Some initial observations from a very quick glance: Its modeling so: garbage in, garbage out. Isn’t that what people on this blog have said when some modeling research/science says that logging isn’t the answer?

    It also appears they make some unsupported assumptions about fire severity post treatment in each of the scenarios. In other words, they assume the thinning/logging will reduce the area of moderate and high fire severity. Not so sure it works that way in the real world.

    I’m sure other much more qualified people can have a look. Again, I just took a very quick glance just now…and mainly just was responding to this science/research in a very similar way that many pro-logging commenters on this blog respond.

    • In my view, the authors correctly “assume the thinning/logging will reduce the area of moderate and high fire severity.” That’s what 4FRI and most forest restoration projects in the western US are designed to do. Restoration in 4FRI means taking stands with many hundreds of trees per acre and taking mostly small ones so that the stands have 57 to 59 trees per acre, the historical average according to the 4FRI FEIS.

      A stand that has 600 or 800 trees per acre is at a higher risk of high-intensity fire than a stand with 60 or 80 trees per acre.

      Of course, and new trees, brush, and grasses fill in over time, fire danger will increase. Active forest management will be needed in the future to address new conditions.

      Doing nothing isn’t an option.

      • “Of course, and new trees, brush, and grasses fill in over time, fire danger will increase. Active forest management will be needed in the future to address new conditions.”

        Gee, Steve, it’s like the timber industry created the perfect circle of logging for themselves. I do wonder how it will all turn out.

        Meanwhile, as the Amazon rainforest burns and the Arctic burns, we better open up America’s Tongass National Forest – the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world – to more logging, roadbuilding and development.

        • Matt, as you know very well, forest restoration isn’t always about cutting mature timber, or even any commercial timber. Sometimes there are merchantable logs, but often it’s removing non-merchantable material.

          What would your prescription be for a watershed in Montana or Arizona, say, with an average of 800 ponderosa pine trees per acre and a community nearby? Careful management to bring the stand back to something like its historical range of variation, and reducing ground fuels? Or no management at all, since logs might be sold to a greedy timber industry? I think I know what your answer would be, but maybe I’m wrong. You often tell us what you oppose. Fine. Now tell us what you’d do if you were calling the shots.

          • “What would your prescription be for a watershed in Montana or Arizona, say, with an average of 800 ponderosa pine trees per acre and a community nearby?”

            First off, I’d estimate that the situation as you describe it is pretty darn rare across the entire western landscape. Would such a situation even make up 1% of the western U.S.? I’m not sure. Also, the situation you describe was very likely the result of over-logging and aggressive fire suppression, two things many in the timber industry still seems to advocate for.

            I’ve pointed out dozens of times on this blog basic Firewise principles that homeowners and communities must use and that, in my opinion, local, county and state governments must mandate.

            Personally, I don’t have an issue with crews coming in with saws and by hand cutting a large number of the small ponderosa pines. I doubt that there would be much, if any, real commercial value in the small pines that would be removed. Perhaps they could be chipped on site, or chipped and given away. Perhaps there would be some firewood available for the elderly, or those having a tough time making ends meet. If there are any commercial “logs” that would need to be taken out in the situation you describe, perhaps they could be used at a local mill.

            Finally, there’s a simple reason why some of us often tell you what we oppose: There’s lots to oppose given the current situation in the modern world. In fact, I’d argue that opposition is one of the most loving, effective and sane things a human being in America could do right now.

      • In case we all forgot, “Restoration in 4FRI means”….a great deal of corruption.

        Check out this investigative piece from High Country News:

        See also, this piece from Andy Stahl’s Forest Service Employees for Environmental Ethics:

        Here’s another piece, from this blog, written by Andy Stahl, titled “4FRI Science Fiction:”

        About 20 other blog posts dealing with 4FRI can be found here:

  3. We should be restoring forests, including these three aspects:

    1) Adjust tree densities to match current annual precipitation levels.

    2) Adjust species compostions to a more resilient mix, instead of preserving highly-flammable trees.

    3) Restore forest structure into all-aged forests.

    You cannot accomplish this by doing nothing. Sadly, partisan politics, an uneducated public and lies about forestry techniques will prevent true restoration. History will not be gentle with the bad actors using this crisis, for monetary gain. Soooo, sure, let’s all lament firestorms, pretending they are all “natural and beneficial”. Let’s blame the opposition while fires burn out of control. Let’s all breathe in that wonderful smoke and know that “some trees cannot reproduce without fire”, in between coughs. Ignoring the extreme impacts of human-caused wildfires isn’t a rational idea.

  4. I agree with Matthew a bit that modeling can model anything, with lots of assumptions, and becomes a full employment program for modellers. So let’s just look at how the modeling relates to our own experiences.
    “The U.S. Forest Service states that rehabilitation and restoration takes many years, and includes planting trees, reestablishing native species, restoring habitats, and treating for invasive plants. There is an urgent need for such restoration in the southwest U.S. to balance out the carbon cycle.”

    Planting trees? Seems like a good idea. Of course there are some people who say conditions have changed so much they won’t grow. Who knows? But it won’t happen if you don’t try and there’s plenty of within species genetic variation in most species.

    Reestablishing native species (not sure exactly what this is)
    Restoring habitats?
    Treating for invasive species? These all seem like generalities. The worst you can say about them is that they might not work.

    So we’re down to the “thinning trees to restore NRV and or reduce fuels”, some of which are commercial and many not. Hence the 4FRI’s efforts to find other markets.
    But for whatever reasons, the timber war framing is not so strong in the SW and the southern Rockies, so the idea of the evil logging industry hasn’t caught on in the same way.

    It seems like it’s better for carbon and people not to have fires burn out of control for long distances and maybe scorch the soil to the extent that trees and other plants won’t grow, plus have the expense of planting. The problem to me with modeling is that it tends to obscure the mechanics of what might happen- not to speak of the fact that it’s really hard to model climate changes, the availability of resources for planting, how trees will grow in the future, and how fire suppression interacts with all that.

  5. Large‐scale forest restoration stabilizes carbon under climate change in Southwest United States

    “Despite initial decreases in carbon in the first two decades due to accelerated harvest and prescribed fire, the moderate‐ and fast‐4FRI scenarios resulted in greater carbon storage by the end of the century than the status quo and no‐harvest scenarios and that pattern remained consistent among the climate models (Fig. 2).”

    “We also saw decreases in TEC [ total ecosystem carbon ] and aboveground biomass in the no‐harvest and status quo scenarios implying that without restoration there is a strong likelihood that forest biomass will decline with climate change due to high severity fires and low productivity.”

    FIRST: Most of the scenarios I have read say we don’t have 80 years to fix the climate crisis, which appears to be the time period required to store greater carbon than this process releases with this log-it faster madness. I guess it all depends on what the meaning of restoration is.

    SECOND: Congress commissioned a study on California’s forest ecosystems called The Sierra Nevada Ecosystem Project, which in 1996 concluded the exact opposite, “Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuels accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity.”

    Sequoia’s forest plan revision makes similar claims about more logging is better and claims carbon sequestration is greater with more logging, but so far, we have not been provided the evidence.

    This paper uses the word carbon 102 times and references many papers that talk about carbon, but . . . . . . does any of that justify the claim?

    • Actually, it appears to be much too late to attempt the more logging scenario, in the southern Sierra Nevada. There are NO other options left but, to wait until those forests are ignited, THEN make a decision on what to do. Chances are extremely high that the fire(s) will be unsafe to fight. Then, we’ll have much less carbon stored. Much less habitat for owls and goshawks. Much less habitat for blackbacked woodpeckers (after 6 post-fire years). It is unclear what will grow back, with no surviving seed sources left.

    • “Timber harvest, through its effects on forest structure, local microclimate, and fuels accumulation, has increased fire severity more than any other recent human activity.”

      Of course, that study used the 80’s style of logging to make that claim. A very common practice among preservationists. Additionally, normal growth also leads to more “fuels accumulation”. I tend to think that “fuels” are the total of both live and dead fuels, as well as whatever other type of tree or plant is growing there. Today’s modern thinning projects reduce “fuels”. Today’s modern salvage projects reduce “fuels”, much in the same way that thinning does. Today’s Forest Service salvage projects are more like snag thinning, cutting only in areas where there are excess snags, site-specifically.

      • Instead of focusing on carbon dioxide, it might make sense to aim for “desired future conditions” for our forests, nearby communities, and in general the triple bottom line: Environmental, Economic, and Social values. If we want healthy, resilient forests — which happens to be the best sort of carbon sink — then we’ll need make management decisions that help us reach that goal, which adds up to the best-case the triple bottom line.

        “Many aspects of climate change and associated impacts will continue for centuries, even if anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are stopped.” — IPCC, 2014

  6. Response to Larry Harrell Fotoware

    To make their claim that more logging is better for the forest ecosystem because logging reduces wildfire severity, the current 2019 Sierra and Sequoia National Forest’s DRAFT Plan Revisions use “the 80’s style of logging” terminology with no provided data regarding the loss of forest carbon and the impacts of that 80’s style of logging and loss of forest carbon on climate change.

    The Forest Service has been logging the dry forests of Sequoia National Forest since the 1950’s, with millions of board feet annually removed until they had selectively removed most of the over-story trees, in addition to clearcut logging selected sections.

    If logging the forests could reduce wildfire severity, these forests should be fireproof.

    It is true that if you remove the trees from the forest, the trees won’t be burned. But logging and thinning remove the least flammable of the forest materials, the tree trunks.

    Logging and thinning also remove the forest canopy, which is what keeps the forest moist and cool and what prevents the forest from becoming a high-elevation desert like its surroundings.
    The standing snags, in addition to being habitat for insects and avian species, provide shade that retains moisture for seedlings to germinate naturally.

    Removing the canopy causes the sun to shine on the forest floor, causes the forest to become hot and dry, causes brush to grow where the trees once stood, and causes the surface winds to increase in the forest, which all increase the fire danger.

    • Ara, I think folks like us talk past each other because we mean different things when we use the same words and we have different stands of trees and different kinds of thinning in mind. This is particularly likely in our TSW community because we come from all over the country.
      For example, thinning doesn’t necessarily “remove the forest canopy”.. there is a kind of thinning that just removes understory trees and ladder fuels.
      What exactly do you think is the “80’s style of logging” terminology?

  7. I’ve been delving deep into the carbon analysis for the plan revision of the Sierra and Sequoia National Forests, and this new research publication about the 4FRI project appears to suffer from the same flaws. In essence, there is no full accounting of the short-term carbon losses from thinning versus potential gains in sequestration (if there really are any). Moreover, the model used in the Sierra/Sequoia analysis has relied on outdated estimates of losses from wildfires, which greatly overstate the average amount of carbon released by factors of over 10. It’s unclear whether this is the case in this new 4FRI research, but it’s certainly possible if not probable, but I couldn’t make that determination from reading the study.

    Thanks to George Wuerthner for pointing to this latter study about overstating losses from fires … Stenzel et al. (2019). The analysis in Stenzel et al. (2019) found that only about 5% of the carbon, on average, is released during a wildfire versus older fuel models, which predict a reduction of 50-80% of fuel volume by weight after a wildfire. Moreover, there is nothing in this new 4FRI study or the Sierra/Sequoia analysis showing the amount of carbon removed from forest thinning, which must be accounted for to determining whether the fuel reduction thinning is worth the cost of potentially hindering greater carbon sequestration without fuel reduction thinning.

    Overall, past studies have found that thinning is not worth the carbon cost. This is supported by a report which found that “conventional fuel-reduction treatments usually remove more C from a forest stand than would a wildfire burning in an untreated stand.” Campbell et al. (2011). The review “reveal[ed] 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.” Id. For example, in a mature, fire suppressed ponderosa pine forest, “protecting one unit of C from wildfire combustion typically came at the cost of removing three units of C in treatment.” Id.

    And even if, somehow, the analysis in this 4FRI study shows a long-term increase in carbon sequestration, the fact that they admit an increase of carbon releases over the first couple of decades is devastating. That’s because the next decade (or two) are the most important to find solutions to our Climate Crisis. So anything that contributes carbon to the atmosphere from management over the next decade or two must not be allowed to move forward.


    Campbell J., Harmon M., and Mitchell S. Can fuel-reduction treatments really increase forest carbon storage in the western US by reducing future fire emissions? Front Ecol Environ 2011; doi:10.1890/110057

    Stenzel J., Bartowitz K., Hartman M., Lutz J., Kolden C., Smith A., Law B., Swanson M., Larson A., Parton W., Hudiburg T. Fixing a snag in carbon emissions estimates from wildfires. Global Change Biology. First published: 30 May 2019;

    • Rene, if we back up from this a minute, let’s see how we got into this argument.

      It assumes that climate change is the overall be all and end all of anything that gets done/consumed. But our society does not behave that way. Fuel treatments support and help suppression efforts which keep communities and infrastructure from burning up, bad watershed events from happening, etc. This is not even a debate in other parts of the west. For a variety of reasons, folks want to return fire to the landscape, but that inevitably releases carbon at the time.

      So fuel treatments and prescribed burning are going to continue, like so many things, aware that there are carbon impacts.

      The great thing about arguing about climate in the future is that it all depends on a variety of things we know (but different stands at different spatial scales) and a variety of things about the future we don’t and can’t know. So it is a full employment program for modelers to have different ideas and debate. But at the end of the day, I think the whole carbon thing is not all that relevant to the specific question of managing fire-prone landscapes. But then I would take all the bucks from modeling climate and put them into CCS technologies.

      • I think carbon is highly relevant to managing fire-prone landscapes if we can find a way to do it in a way that minimizes carbon releases and maximizes sequestration. That’s why we need a full accounting of what the Forest Service proposes to remove through its thinning or prescribed burning activities. That is something they are not disclosing.

        I would argue that prescribed burning releases a small fraction of the carbon as compared to the release from thinning activities (see quotes above from the Campbell et al. (2011)) report. If we can improve resiliency and reduce risk using prescribed fire alone without removing the massive amounts of carbon across the landscape from thinning (as in 4FRI), we all win. We get fuel reduction, community protection, and ecosystem restoration at the same time, while doing it inexpensively, and without the massive loss of carbon over the next 2 decades. From a carbon standpoint, that’s what’s now the most important.

        But such an alternative can’t be considered if the agency doesn’t provide the data and/or conducts a true cost-benefit analysis from a carbon standpoint.

        Don’t get me started about CCS. Intact forest ecosystems are the only known and proven carbon capture and storage device, and all we need to do is ensure their protection and plant lots more trees.

        • The Forest Service is unwilling to torch off areas of accumulated fuels without some sort of modification. Since the USFS is legally-liable for any and all escapes, they aren’t willing to risk the extreme costs and damages when fires escape. Remember, also, that prescribed fires must meet certain conditions. We will also need to see numbers on “Land Use Changes”, when fires turn lands into brushfields, or hinder the regeneration of previous forests, despite the extreme soils damages. Those facts about today’s wildfires must be factored into any carbon accounting scenario.

        • Here in Oregon, the Oregon Global Warming Commission’s 2018 Biennial Report to the Legislature states that “Approximately 11 billion tons of carbon dioxide equivalent are packed into Oregon forests today, and we appear to be increasing that store at somewhere between 15 million and 60 million tons CO2e annually.”

          In other words, Oregon’s forests are a net carbon sink, even with the level of harvesting that so many people object to.

          But the commission warns that this carbon sink is at risk from “a dramatic die-off of forests (such as has occurred already in Canadian and Alaskan boreal forests and in the Russian taiga forests).” Not to mention in the Sierras in California.

          How can we decrease the likelihood of a dramatic die-off of forests? By increasing management activities that bolster forest resilience.

          • Steve: the study also found that gains in carbon are on federal forest lands. Pvt industrial lands continue to be a source. The two stand in dramatic contrast to one another.

              • Actually there are die-offs in northwestern Washington/Puget Sound. It isn’t really a matter of the Sierra die-off spreading north (even though there has been some mortality in southwestern Oregon). Washington is seeing declines/die-off in western hemlock and western red cedar, likely due to the droughty conditions the last 2-3 years. But it is still being investigated to find a cause. This year most of the state of Washington has been in drought status, Oregon not so much.

  8. I think “Thinning from below” is the actual term. Pretending that we would slide back into more clearcuts and “overstory removal” is disingenuous. No one in the Forest Service Region Five is pushing for THAT. No one!

    Also, blaming the present for what happened in the past doesn’t help anything. It has been over 25 years since the Forest Service did any of that, in the Sierra Nevada.

    Most people want more prescribed fire but, it isn’t going to happen in places that need fuels reduced the most. The USFS will NOT light dangerous fires. They just won’t.

  9. Logging causes “Land Use Changes”, turns lands into brushfields, removes the forest canopy, which is what keeps the forest moist and cool and what prevents the forest from becoming a high-elevation desert like its surroundings, causes the sun to shine on the forest floor, causes the forest to become hot and dry, causes brush to grow where the trees once stood, and causes the surface winds to increase in the forest, which all increase the fire danger, destroys wildlife habitat, hinders the natural regeneration of forests, causes extreme soils damage, releases sediments into streams, and fills behind reservoir dams, which cost billions to rectify.

    • Ara, you keep repeating that over and over, but many of your claims are not true. We have talked about thinning not removing the canopy. In Colorado and New Mexico, big fires cause extreme soil damage and have led to calls for more fuel treatment projects. Here are a couple of links.
      Note the photos of sedimentation post-fire in the second link.
      The actions of cutting trees and piling and burning them or hauling them out (not sure what you mean by “logging”) have practices designed specifically not to increase sedimentation. Wildfires don’t.
      When I was going to school and working in reforestation, it was well known that certain species require openings for seedlings to become established (“natural regeneration of forests”). I don’t believe that this scientific knowledge has changed in the last 50 years.

      • “The actions of cutting trees and piling and burning them or hauling them out (not sure what you mean by “logging”) have practices designed specifically not to increase sedimentation. Wildfires don’t.”

        I wish for once that some of these folks who make blanket statements that Timber Companies work for Satan and loggers are Satan’s seed, would for once explain where future lumber is going to come from and I don’t mean the usual default answer like “HEMP.” It’s also not helpful trashing human beings existence and pushing scientific eugenics programs to save the planet as many of these transhumanist sciencey sites like Genetic Literacy Project do. Does the Timber Industry go out and find a tree or trees that will grow quickly and easily in drier area habitats which can be grown and harvested quickley to meet needs and demands ? If so how are they watered, with effleunt water ? Frankly I myself don’t really know anymore, but then I’m in good company with the environmentalists and their Timber opponents because it seems neither do they. Forest areas just are not functioning like they once did.

        “When I was going to school and working in reforestation, it was well known that certain species require openings for seedlings to become established (“natural regeneration of forests”).”

        Take your point above. Where I lived in Riverside & San Diego Counties of Southern California rurals, road cutouts and oother disturbed soil areas every Spring were loaded with all manner of seedlings of Conifers, Oaks, etc. The past couple of decades when I have visited I see almost nothing anymore. And that is bizarre. So I’m not seeing many traditional forest areas ever recovering to what they once were.

        “I don’t believe that this scientific knowledge has changed in the last 50 years.”

        The knowledge hasn’t changed, but the ecosystems and their behaviour have changed. Even things which worked for me year after year successfully will not work any longer in tree establishment, but keep in mind I can only speak from a dry forest land experience.

        • Kevin, my point was only that some species need bare mineral soil and access to light. Certainly that isn’t sufficient, there need to be cone crops, enough water, not too many predators and competitors and so on.

          • Before I moved over here to Sweden 13+ years ago I was finding cones on some tree species like “Parry Pinyon” which produced lots of cones, but hollow nuts with no seeds. This was in the San Jacinto Mountains. Some weren’t trees weren’t even cones producing at all. Again, my only perspective comes from SoCal dry forests. But the fact is that nothing seems to be working or behaving properly anymore. Photos of forests anywhere around this planet are producing more dead tree snags than I ever experienced as a kid. Why wildlife populations should be booming if you believe all the sermons on dead trees habitats. Yet nobody out there has any answers to reverse anything.

  10. I can’t believe this paper passed peer review. There is no evidence they considered Bayesian priors, i.e., the probabilistic aspects of the question, i.e., the very low probability that stands treated to reduce fuels will inc fact experience wildfire during the period before fuels regrow. Those that have carefully considered these issues universally conclude that logging to limit carbon emission from fire ends up emitting more carbon from logging than is saved from fire.

    Law & Harmon (2011) conducted a literature review and 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).

    • Luckily, it’s more about site-specific facts, as there is no one-size-fits-all decision that will address all the issues. In California, I think we can guarantee that many forests will burn within the window of lowered fuels. (Didn’t we just see that in Paradise and the Rim fire?)

    • So 2nd, no one really knows what that probability is for any given area. But people want to keep fuel treatments going for a variety of reasons, especially to change fire behavior to make it easier to protect communities, avoid big dangerous, and health disturbing smoky fires and all that. I think how and where people consider carbon and climate, or not, in making decisions is different for each sector.

      One conundrum is if climate change is changing everything (biota, etc.) we are unlikely to be able to predict accurately what is going to happen in the future. Assigning the future probabilities quantitatively does not make predicting the future any more accurate.

      But your group and others can have different assumptions, look at different areas, and so on… but it still doesn’t matter because people don’t do fuel treatments for carbon reasons, although they might not want to burn piles afterwards for carbon reasons if there are other alternatives.

    • I guess it is also a good thing that no one thins forests seeking only a reduction of future carbon losses due to wildfires. Can you show us a single project where this has happened? (And why would someone study just this one, singular issue, ignoring all other issues? What value is there in studying just one of many very valid issues? Beyond the scope of what you want to study?)

  11. You are looking past the issue of applying scarce financial resources where they will do the most potential good, especially if treatments don’t derive profit — it’s the WUI!! This priority should override regional “balance” so that public lands/development at the greatest risk with the “best buy” of WUI investment should get treated first, e.g. CA. Spending money in the back country is much less beneficial. Also, time and again we see examples of where risk reduction activity has been overwhelmed by nasty fires anyway. Yes, there are also examples where a fire “laid down” but is that a good bet compared to WUI? Carbon? It should be a consideration and decision criteria, as well.

    • I don’t buy the funding excuse. A ‘re-direction’ of a tiny fraction of what the Feds spend on wildfires would go a long way towards treating the amount of acres needed. A top-heavy Forest Service doesn’t help, either.

      Sadly, there are other reasons, beyond their control, why the Forest Service cannot do more.


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