Keeping fire on the landscape: Consequences for Carbon Balance and Forest Resilience
Developed under CAL FIRE grant 18-CCI-FH-0032-AEU
Dr. John Battles, University of California Berkeley (Principal Investigator)
Co-Principal Investigators: Dr. Scott Stephens, University of California Berkeley; Dr. Rob York, University of California Berkeley; Dr. Brandon Collins, University of California Berkeley; Dr. Jodi Axelson, University of California Berkeley
Project Location: Blodgett Forest Research Station, central Sierra Nevada Mountains. Latitude N 38.91025, Longitude W -120.66276
In the wake of the historic 2020 wildfire season in which more than 4 million acres burned in California, the State is redoubling its efforts to increase the pace and scale of management to reduce fire hazard and improve forest resilience. At the University of California’s Blodgett Forest Research Station in the central Sierra Nevada mountains, the long-running “Fire and Fire Surrogate” (FFS) study has provided critical information to forest managers and landowners on the use of prescribed fire and restoration thinning. With this $454,772 grant from CAL FIRE’s CCI Forest Health Research Program, Dr. John Battles, Dr. Scott Stephens, and other researchers are continuing this important work, with an eye towards understanding the value of repeated application of “fire surrogates” on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Daniel Duane from Wired Magazine (September 2020) reported after seeing an FFS stand with repeated application of prescribed fire “that a forest, when allowed to burn the way it evolved to burn, feels wonderful, a sun-dappled gallery of enormous sugar pine, Douglas fir, and black oak shading meadow-like ground at once sheltered from weather but open enough to move freely.” However, these treatments do exact a cost – they reduce the amount of carbon stored and can injure trees.
In California, forests play an important role in the State’s strategies for mitigating climate change. Intact forests store large amounts of terrestrial carbon, but when disturbed by wildfires and drought, they can release carbon via smoke emissions and decomposition. While there is broad agreement that fuel treatments can reduce fire hazard and provide other co-benefits, the consequences for carbon storage and stability are still uncertain. “We need to understand the joint trajectory of carbon accumulation and fire hazard under different treatment regimes,” says Principal Investigator Dr. John Battles. “With the support of this Forest Health Research Program grant, we will be able to complete the most comprehensive, on-the-ground record of forest treatments and their impacts on carbon and resilience.” These efforts include a full accounting of the treatment effects on forest carbon storage as well as a detailed analysis of tree growth responses. Forest managers and landowners throughout the State and beyond will be able to use the results of this study to inform their management actions and policy decisions in the face of warming climate and increasing wildfire.
For more information on the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, visit: Blodgett Fire and Fire Surrogate Study
Foster, D. E., J.J. Battles, B.M. Collins, R.A. York, and S.L. Stephens. 2020. Potential wildfire and carbon stability in frequent-fire forests in the Sierra Nevada: Tradeoffs from a long-term study. Ecosphere: Article e03198.
Dr. Rob York discusses the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study with stakeholders at Blodgett Forest Research Station.