Mapping Fire Resilience Priorities: Communities and Carbon

This essay from The Conversation is interesting.  The author’s study is public access.

“The US is spending billions to reduce forest fire risks – we mapped the hot spots where treatment offers the biggest payoff for people and climate”


To find the locations with greatest potential payoff for forest treatments, we started by identifying areas where forest carbon is more likely to be lost to wildfires compared to other locations.

In each area, we considered the likelihood of wildfire and calculated how much forest carbon might be lost through smoke emissions and decomposition. Additionally, we evaluated whether the conditions in burned areas would be too stressful for trees to regenerate over time. When forests regrow, they absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and lock it away in their wood, eventually making up for the carbon lost in the fire.

In particular, we found that forests in California, New Mexico and Arizona were more likely to lose a large portion of their carbon in a wildfire and also have a tough time regenerating because of stressful conditions.

When we compared those areas to previously published maps detailing high wildfire risk to communities, we found several hot spots for simultaneously reducing wildfire risk to communities and stabilizing stored carbon.

Forests surrounding Flagstaff, Arizona; Placerville, California; Colorado Springs, Colorado; Hamilton, Montana; Taos, New Mexico; Medford, Oregon, and Wenatchee, Washington, are among locations with good opportunities for likely achieving both goals.

7 thoughts on “Mapping Fire Resilience Priorities: Communities and Carbon”

  1. Studies like this that strive to be relevant by including comments about carbon and climate would be better if they just stuck with forest fires.

    Carbon dioxide is overwhelmingly beneficial. Because of slightly enhanced atmospheric CO2, burned areas will regrow much faster than they would have in previous centuries, if they also get enough water. Trees and all other plants combine CO2 and water in the presence of sunlight to produce glucose (C6H12O6), from which the plant makes all sorts of other organic chemicals necessary for life. Within reason, more water and CO2 mean faster growth.

    This effect is far more important than the tiny warming from nearly saturated CO2 Raman scattering. And even with the theoretical enhancement of the Greenhouse Effect from water vapor, clouds are the powerful negative feedback that keeps our climate largely stable.

    Scientists who want us to pay attention to their work need to skip the climate nonsense that they do not understand. Gratuitous comments like “the world needs to rapidly transition away from fossil fuels” simply say that the researcher knows nothing about climate issues and perhaps little about forest issues as well.

    Gordon J. Fulks, PhD (Physics)
    Corbett, Oregon USA

  2. Of course, targeting treatments for forest [forests are more than just trees] is prudent. However, I question the basic premise of: “The US is spending billions to reduce forest fire risks – we mapped the hot spots where treatment offers the biggest payoff for people and climate.”

    The primary reason for the current level of destruction from unplanned wildfires in the “…lack of forest maintenance.” For just the Forest Service alone, the funding gap equates to a minimum annual amount of about $2.2 billion up to $3.6 billion for at least 5-7 years [see page 16 of A Call to Action]. It seems apparent that Congress is willing to Appropriate about +1$million/hour for fire suppression yet is unwilling adequately address the forest maintenance issue.

    Without adequate funding for forest maintenance, nothing will change and nothing has [i.e., witness the last 30+ years]. The following eight [8] actions are required to address the national emergency we are facing:

    1. Lack of forest maintenance, especially on public lands, is the highest priority. Funding is far from adequate.
    2. Put out all fires immediately; no exceptions. The Notion of “Managed Fire” push by the USDA Forest Service is not acceptable.
    3. Smoke continues to be a big-time killer. Unfortunately, it is largely going unnoticed. The longer we “manage” the fire, the more smoke there is, the more lives lost; pretty basic stuff.
    4. Reduction in hazardous fuels is fundamental to success [i.e., the Maui fires; also, read the Hawaii Tropical Forestry Recovery Act. We knew then, this [the Maui fires] would probably happen without landscape scale forest maintenance [forest care]. And, it did.
    5. Expanded biomass uses, including wood-based nanotechnology and biochar, can be a “game changer.”
    6. The Wildland Urban Interface [WUI] must be fire wise and safe. It’s a wise investment if accomplished in a cohesive, comprehensive manner.
    7. Improved aerial fire suppression tactics is key. THIS CANNOT BE OVERSTATED.
    8. Better utilization of the Smokejumper cadre is critical to achieving item 2, above. I am still wondering if the Redding [California] Smokejumpers were called for deployment for the recent fires on the Six Rivers National Forest. I do not think so. If I am correct, that would be a shame.

    Again, targeting resources is great. But currently, the issue is much more complication, starting with the severe lack of forest maintenance, especially in the western part of the country. We know what to do. Yet, we seem stuck.

    Very respectfully,

  3. It remains to be seen how many Federal firefighters will quit when their additional pay supplements end, at the end of this month. Here in California, I’m guessing that there will be significant amounts who will end up being hired by CalFire.

    Plus, that will dovetail nicely with a probable government shutdown. CalFire is willing to cover those Federal lands in California that will need more fire coverage. Congress seems blissfully ignorant of the problems and impacts involved.

    • What’s funny is even if it is CalFire doing suppression on federal land, with previously federal firefighters, it will be federal dollars picking up the cost (albeit higher). At least if CalFire has anything to say about it.
      And the mills will only take the private industrial sawlogs, not the federal ones cut 1.5-3 years after the fact. Lose-lose.

      • I have worked on several Forest Service fire salvage projects that started operations in the late spring of the following year. Many salvage projects that get litigated can survive the District Court lawsuit. That is when the Purchaser should be getting all the trees on the ground, in order to make some of the Plantiff’s concerns a ‘moot point’.

        It might also be prudent to ‘analyze’ potential helicopter logging, so that it is an option for getting felled trees to landings, if an Appeals Court suspends skidding operations. That issue came up in Eldorado NF on the Power Fire, which I did Sale Admin on. The Ninth Circuit would not allow helicopter yarding on tractor ground, merely because it wasn’t analyzed in the plans. A late-winter settlement allowed felled trees to be harvested, and decked logs could be shipped to mills. The rest of the dead trees would not be cut.

    • Well, perhaps that is one way to get the FS out of the fire-fighting business. The BLM in parts of Oregon relies on the state of Oregon for fire fighting/fire protection. Why can’t the FS do the same? There are getting to be too many things that states or partners can do easier than the FS – time to let them do it, even if it is paying firefighters, hiring, contracting out work, etc.

      • The Forest Service has always felt that they could teach any 18 year old to mark timber, clean toilets and fight fire. Congress has always agreed with those ideas. Could that mindset be changing soon? Probably not until the extra funds run out.

        My guess is that some Forestry graduates will only take a USFS job as a last resort. Their Federal HR issues remain unaddressed.


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