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Researchers Find More Carbon Storage Lost From Forest Thinning Than Wildfires

Dec. 20, 2011 | OPB
CONTRIBUTED BY:
Bonnie Stewart


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  • Forest thinning, such as this work done in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon, may be of value for some purposes but will also increase carbon emissions to atmosphere, researchers say. credit: Oregon State University
Forest thinning, such as this work done in the Umpqua National Forest in Oregon, may be of value for some purposes but will also increase carbon emissions to atmosphere, researchers say. | credit: Oregon State University | rollover image for more

A new Oregon State University study shows that thinning forests to prevent fires reduces carbon storage capacity more than a real fire.

This could have serious implications for policymakers who are developing a credit system for reducing our carbon footprint through carbon sequestration. Forests are an important part of the carbon solution because they are natural carbon sponges. This has led some people to Some suggest giving carbon credits to forest managers who thin their stands to prevent serious fires.

OSU researchers, however, found that thinning forests to prevent fires actually hurts carbon sequestration efforts.

“You’re basically losing carbon with the treatment. You’re losing more in the treatment than you’re getting back through changing fire behavior,” says Mark E. Harmon, Richardson Chair and Professor in Forest Science.

He and two other researchers found that thinning trees removed three times more stored carbon than could be saved by changing a fire’s behavior.

Harmon says culling trees makes sense when used strategically to protect homes and other structures. The practice also can prevent the spread of disease.

But it shouldn’t be encouraged by rewarding it with carbon credits, he says.

© 2011 OPB
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