Here’s a new open-access publication by Oregon State’s Mark E. Harmon, with Chad T. Hanson and Dominick A. DellaSala. This is interesting and needed research, but the authors’ focus on carbon emissions from burned trees is only one part of the bigger picture. The write that “if logged and removed for biomass energy, much of this carbon could be released relatively quickly.” True, but that would offset fossil CO2 emissions. Likewise, harvesting and processing into lumber and mass timber products would sequester CO2 for many decades or perhaps longer, also potentially offsetting fossil CO2 emissions from the production of non-renewable building materials, such as concrete and steel. IMHO, Hanson and DellaSala have long campaigned against salvage logging, which seems to be their aim here.
Our field-based examination of the amount of live aboveground woody biomass combusted indicated that while rates for small branch segments can be quite high (i.e., 100%), these rates do not translate in to major losses at the stand or landscape level. This is because high combustion rates in smaller structures are countered by other factors as one proceeds from branches to trees to stands, and to landscapes. The end result in the forests we examined is that even very severe fires combust <2% of live aboveground woody biomass on average. Our work as well as that of others  suggests that additional field research is needed to determine how wildfires release carbon to the atmosphere in a wide range of forest structures and fire-weather conditions. We suggest that researchers and policy makers avoid using estimators that are not field-based, because they currently appear to overstate the wildfire emissions used in carbon emissions reporting. As such, they have the potential to misdirect climate mitigation policy. The fact that the vast majority of aboveground woody biomass is not combusted raises the question of when fire-killed trees actually release their carbon. If dead trees are allowed to remain in place, the natural decomposition process could take many decades to centuries to release fire-killed carbon . In contrast, if logged and removed for biomass energy, much of this carbon could be released relatively quickly . Therefore, additional research is also needed to determine the degree that post-fire forest management influences the temporal profile of carbon release.