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Sep 2019

Large-Scale Forest Restoration Stabilizes Carbon Under Climate Change in the Southwest U.S.

Lisa A McCauley, Marcos D Robles, Travis Woolley, Robert M Marshall, Alec Kretchun, and David F Gori
Arizona
Climate Change, Fire
Forest
USFS
Abstract

A century of fire suppression along with a warmer climate have increased the size, frequency and severity of wildfires, which has increased risk to communities, water supplies, wildlife, forest cover and carbon stocks. The Four Forest Restoration Initiative (4FRI), a collaboration between the U.S. Forest Service and stakeholders to accelerate forest thinning, was formed in response to the large fires. We examined the fate of forest carbon with different rates of forest thinning across 1 million acres of 4FRI in northern AZ by simulating carbon sequestration and emissions between 2010 and 2100 under four climate change scenarios and different rates of mechanical thinning followed by prescribed fire. We examined how forest thinning and prescribed fire will affect wildfire severity and forest growth under a changing climate. We found that accelerated forest thinning followed by prescribed fire resulted in a 9-16% increase in carbon, stabilizing forest carbon stocks for decades and buying considerable time to better understand the effects of climate change on forests. In the accelerated forest thinning scenarios, 70% of the gains in carbon were due to a decrease in wildfire severity and 30% were due to an increase in forest productivity. Fire-adapted forests comprise more than 40% of the total forest cover in the western U.S., the majority of those forests are at risk of catastrophic fire. This study suggests that accelerated forest thinning can sustain forest cover and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions by reducing catastrophic wildfire.

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(ALL RIGHTS GRANTED TNC) View of Escudilla Mountain. Fall colors heighten the natural beauty of forest and meadow in the White Mountains, one of Arizona’s last wide-open spaces and where TNC works to protect the headwaters of three major Arizona rivers: the Salt, Gila, and Little Colorado and their greenbelts – riparian habitats critical for wildlife and water quality – as well as restore healthy forests within the largest ponderosa pine community in the world, save rare and unique wildlife and plant species, and control non-native, invasive species, such as crayfish, Arizona. © Betsy D. Warner/TNC
Aerial view of the Parks West restoration site overseen by TNC. Taken March 16, 2020.
Conservancy staffers, Dale Turner and Amanda Rebore, helping to map the Sabn Pedro River in Arizona. They use a GPS unit to denote the end of the water flow on the LowerSan Pedro River. They hiked through the Conservancy’s San Pedro Preserve.

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We are working with partners and stakeholders to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration for a healthy Arizona

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