Worrying finding in California’s climate initiative reveals problem with using forests to offset CO2 emissions

“Climate forests”? Nice idea, but…. see this article in Phys.org is here. Excerpt:

Researchers “found that the estimated carbon losses from wildfires within the offset program’s first 10 years have depleted at least 95% of the contributions set aside to protect against all fire risks over 100 years. Likewise, the potential carbon losses associated with a single disease and its impacts on a are large enough to fully hinder the total credits set aside for all disease- and insect-related mortality over 100 years.

“In just 10 years, wildfires have exhausted protections designed to last for a century. It is incredibly unlikely that the program will be able to withstand the wildfires of the next 90 years, particularly given the role of the climate crisis in exacerbating fire risks,” said co-author Dr. Oriana Chegwidden, of CarbonPlan.


12 thoughts on “Worrying finding in California’s climate initiative reveals problem with using forests to offset CO2 emissions”

  1. Hmm. Modelers model that trees will live.. other modelers model that trees will die. Human beings have observed trees burning up and dying for other reasons since … forever. Who thought forest offsets were a good idea?

    Also a problem for the “mature tree preservation for carbon” idea, when keeping all mature trees means less fire resilience.

    • The preservationists have a number of issues, especially regarding people, that they discount the impacts from. We need to consider human-caused wildfires to be as ‘natural’ as rain, snow, wind and sun. The impacts of these wildfires will continue and persist as long as humans are still walking the planet. Our planning efforts should be addressing that reality. Re-burns are another impact that is discounted, and not acknowledged in carbon accounting, especially when talking about conversions from forests to brushfields/grasslands.

      Maybe we should rethink the ideas about “natural succession”, in this world dominated by humans?

  2. I certainly don’t want to be recognized as the poster child for a quote from the movie “Little Big Man”, where one of the Chiefs pointed out “the emptiest wagon makes the most noise”, but I do want to add my two cents on this.

    I see two issues here; one is the “all eggs in one basket” concern for trying to bank anything related to carbon capture, in any forest in the West. And the other is we (USFS) suck at suppressing large fires!

    The carbon capture analogy would be the story time saga of the three bears; you got’ta find the right bed to make it work. Thinking out loud, that would be anywhere east of the 100th Meridian.

    As for fire suppression, I can’t type that amount of perspective on an iPhone. But needless to say, forests and fires have changed, but we are still using 1950 tactics to suppress them! Incident Management Teams do a lot for safety and comfort of firefighters, but at increasingly prohibitive costs.

    Maybe it’s time to suppress all starts and rely more on mechanical fuel treatments in forests of the West. If it’s now more than about the forests and more than about the trees, we’ve lost the edge to even consider carbon…

    • Jim, I disagree that “…we (USFS) suck at suppressing large fires!” The biggest, badest 1% of fires are impossible to control — no amount of human effort can do it. We excel at suppressing the rest.

      • Steve, you proved my point; we can’t (at least so far) suppress large fires. So…. We need to keep them small. I am talking wildfires; I’m all for sensible Rx burning, where we can do it safely (very limited west of the 100th)….

        • I don’t agree, Jim. We can’t always “put them out right away everywhere” to me is not the same thing as “we can’t suppress them”. That’s what thousands of folks are working on, across the Regions, as we speak.

          • Steve, Sharon; there is emerging technology overseas that deals with oil well fires. It’s two jet engines mounted on a frame that emits 250 gallons water/minute. Looks promising to me, when all else fails and the fire is at the subdivision level. Otherwise, we stand back and watch it burn? I’ve seen videos of these things in action – impressive!

            We know how to keep fires manageable, it’s called managing our timber stands! Proven time and time again to successfully knock fire from the crown to the forest floor. We don’t want to do that bad enough to implement those practices.

            When I think back on my fire career (in hotline), we may have had fires get large, but we always hemmed them up in areas treated silviculturally. As Agency Administrator, some of our IMT’s, especially Type II’s, were not as successful as they should have been! Awfully hard to argue (successfully) with an IMT on tactics – caused bad blood, then you’re screwed!

            The Roadless Bill in Congress is another example! If the “Greens” don’t get it now, they will. The frenzy over retardant in SMZ’s is outrageous! The “managed fire” principle, when chosen in the wrong weather conditions, along with escaped Rx fire, and no accountability of actions is going to throttle those options in the “right” conditions!

            We choose the status quo; tell me why it is not?

  3. This success, so far, on the Oak Fire is worth celebrating. That country is so dry in July/August, with or without climate change. I’m impressed that they kept it relatively small — it could have been much, much worse.

    The CAL FIRE Madera-Mariposa-Merced Unit’s PIO (https://www.facebook.com/CALFIREMMU) sent along an update on the Oak Fire, which has burned 19,244 acres on the Sierra National Forest near Midpines, in Mariposa County, where it is now 90% contained.
    Oak Fire Incident Update https://drive.google.com/file/d/1xQpzoNmiH6Q8lgAdqKqWjG09gRleeKU0/view?usp=sharing

    Thanks to Mike Archer’s WILDFIRE NEWS OF THE DAY had the link above. Sign up here:

  4. Conclusion: “forest carbon offsets don’t deliver climate benefits that justify ongoing fossil CO2 emissions”

    Does that mean it’s not a “nice idea,” or that more areas should be set aside, making the price of offsets higher?

    • Forest carbon offsets don’t deliver climate benefits that justify ongoing fossil CO2 emissions — because of the vast acreage burned in recent wildfires. So addressing the wildfires is a priority for addressing climate change.

      • I don’t see it as either/or. Reducing fires and setting aside more forest would both contribute to having an adequately capitalized “buffer.”


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