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
Climate Change, Fire, Forest Restoration Benefits
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.
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.
Our Approach to Science
The Nature Conservancy’s conservation science program in Arizona engages stakeholders and expertise in applied science and policy to develop new information, ideas, and tools that can help solve some of our most pressing challenges affecting people and nature
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We are working with partners and stakeholders to accelerate the pace and scale of forest restoration for a healthy Arizona
Mapping the Status of River Streams
Wet/dry mapping provides a low-cost, river-wide snapshot of hydrologic conditions for rivers with interrupted perennial surface flows.
Every June groups of volunteers walk the entire 170 mile length of the San Pedro River and record where it is wet and where it is dry during the hottest, driest time of the year. Twenty years’ worth of data on summertime surface flows in the San Pedro River within the San Pedro Riparian National C[…]
Arizona, Geo Region
Forest Restoration Benefits, Topic
Jamie L Peeler, Lisa McCauley, Kerry L Metlen, Travis Woolley, Kimberley T Davis, Marcos D Robles, Ryan D Haugo, Karin L Riley, Philip E Higuera, Joseph E Fargione
Identifying opportunity hot spots for reducing the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in western US conifer forests
As both the climate and wildfire crises intensify and investments are made to dramatically increase the pace of forest restoration across dry forests in the western U.S. through the Wildfire Crisis Strategy, an understanding of where Nature-Based Solutions are the most optimal in lessening climate i[…]
Arizona, Colorado River Basin, Western U.S.
Climate Change, Forest Restoration Benefits
Collaboration, USDA ARS
Ravindra Dwivedi, Joel A. Biederman, Patrick D. Broxton, Kangsan Lee, Willem J.D. van Leeuwen, Jessie K. Pearl
Forest density and snowpack stability regulate root zone water stress and percolation differently at two sites with contrasting ephemeral vs. stable seasonal snowpacks
Much of the western United States depends on high elevation snowpack in forested watersheds for water supply, wildlife habitat, and recreation in both adjacent and downstream communities. The forest-snow-water relationship is well studied in areas with stable – that is, cold – seasonal s[…]