Fire, Carbon Sequestration, and Averted Emissions

California is on the verge of implementing carbon accounting protocols, and many want to know the role that forests may be able to play in this framework. As part of the West Coast Regional Carbon Sequestration Partnership (WESTCARB) project, we have developed a methodology for determining “baseline” area burned in different regions, which will be inputs to quantifying carbon offsets due to fuels treatments. This research has far-reaching policy implications as California and many other states prepare for a cap-and-trade carbon market process.
California has become the leading state in the U.S. regarding enacting policies designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and sequester carbon. A.B. 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act, points to the forestry sector for large carbon offsets. Questions surrounding carbon sequestration, fire hazards, and forest management are critical regarding carbon offsets in Sierra Nevada forests. Federal agencies such as the U.S. Forest Service are implementing treatments to reduce fire hazards and increase forest resiliency. Presently no information exists on how fuel treatments effect long-term carbon sequestration and how vulnerable forest carbon is to wildfire. We also lack information on how changing climates will modify wildfire activity and this could profoundly effect carbon sequestration and forest conservation. This research is focused on quantifying carbon sequestration and fluxes from the most commonly used fuels treatments on federal lands in the Sierra Nevada.