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Burn piles near Sunriver, Oregon

Burn piles near Sunriver, Oregon


Project Summary

For more information, view the proposal document.

Forests play a significant role in storing carbon in live and dead wood and soil. For example, in 2003 12-19% of U.S. fossil fuel emissions were offset by carbon removed from the atmosphere by forest growth and storage in harvested wood products (Ryan et al. 2010). Given the importance of forests in the global carbon cycle, it is no wonder that scientists, policy makers and managers have focused on forests and forest management as a key component of strategies to mitigate climate change (Watson et al. 2000). Many studies have examined how to increase carbon storage in forests (e.g. Thornley, and Cannell 2000, Bourque et al, 2007, Hennigar et al 2008, Harmon et al 2009) and suggested land management approaches (Ryan et al. 2010). However, our understanding of management effects on carbon cycling is incomplete in several areas including:

  1. The effects fuel management strategies on carbon sequestration
  2. Variation in effects of management on carbon across a range of forest ecosystems and land ownerships
  3. Interactions of climate change and forest management on carbon sequestration.

In addition, while much attention has been paid recently to forest-based climate change mitigation strategies at broad scales, relatively little work has examined tradeoffs associated with managing forest to increase carbon storage and to produce other ecosystem services at landscape and stand scales (Seidl 2007). Understanding these tradeoffs is important because too often narrowly focused environmental and energy policies can have unintended consequences for other goods and services (e.g. effects ethanol production on agricultural lands on food prices and landscape diversity). In forests, for example, a “no timber harvest” scenario for U.S. public lands would result in significant increase in carbon storage equivalent to offsetting the carbon dioxide produced by 4 to 7 million cars per year (Thompson and Alig 2009). However, it is not known how maximizing carbon in such a way would affect components of biodiversity that are dependent on active management. For example, management may be needed to restore degraded habitats or create early successional habitats where intensive forest management or fire suppression have reduced landscape diversity (Swanson et al. 2010). Other tradeoffs may exist where adaptive actions by managers (e.g. thinning to reduce drought stress related to climate change) may reduce carbon sequestration. We lack understanding of potential tradeoffs among desired landscape conditions or outputs associated with different forest carbon management actions.

We intend to conduct research to better understand the effects of forest management on carbon and other ecosystem services in the Pacific Northwest and northern California. The forest ecosystems of this region have potential to produce significant ecosystem service values including carbon sequestration (Hudiberg et al. 2009), wood products, and biodiversity (Spies and Duncan 2009). In addition, climate change, wildfires, logging, and development in these forest ecosystems can create high carbon fluxes to the atmosphere. The region is especially well-suited to examining land management effects on the carbon cycle given the diversity of land management strategies and forest ecosystem types. Consequently, our findings from this region will have relevance at national and global scales.

Major Objectives:

  1. Evaluate alternative future scenarios in terms of climate change and forest management strategies (larger goals) and practices (silvicultural approaches) on carbon sequestration and flux in multi-ownership landscapes across the Pacific Northwest and northern California
  2. Evaluate tradeoffs among select ecosystem services (carbon, biodiversity indicators, and wood production and products) associated with different forest management strategies and practices.
  3. Work with stakeholders from a variety of agencies and organizations including members of the humanities/arts communities to improve the value of the work to society and better communicate our findings.

Questions addressed:

  1. How has the production of carbon, biodiversity, and wood products varied across ownerships and forest types in the recent past and how might it change under alternative futures driven by climate change and management decisions? Answering this question in both a historical and future context will blend the empirical power and specificity of retrospective studies with the experimental power and flexibility of simulation models.
  2. What is the potential to modify current stand and landscape practices to increase carbon storage while still meeting biodiversity and wood and fiber production goals of landowners? For every multidimensional problem there are typically multiple solutions that can have different outcomes. For example, it may be possible to create different bundles (i.e. sets) of ecosystem services for carbon, wood, biodiversity. It will be important for policy makers and managers to know what kind of decision space they have for meeting multiple objectives.
  3. What are the consequences of different fuel management strategies for carbon and ecosystem services in fire-prone landscapes? Forests of the west coast of the U.S. have a variety of fire regimes that also function as carbon flux regimes because of the tight coupling among fire, fuels, and carbon. The value of fuel treatments and fire suppression for reducing the size and severity of wildfires is relatively well-known (e.g. Finney et al. 2007) compared to our understanding of the value of fuel treatments to mitigate carbon fluxes over large landscapes. Given the billions of dollars spent on fuel treatments and the high potential carbon and ecological effects of wildfires, it is extremely important to obtain a better understanding of the interactions of vegetation manipulations, wildfire behavior and carbon dynamics.


Project News

Science Team Meets with Stakeholder Group

The Carbon Tradeoffs science team met in Portland, OR with a stakeholder group.  The January 6th meeting covered topics including study site selection and possible management scenarios.