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Can fuel-reduction treatments really increase forest carbon storage in the western US by reducing future fire emissions?
Abstract and Figures
It has been suggested that thinning trees and other fuel-reduction practices aimed at reducing the probability of high-severity forest fire are consistent with efforts to keep carbon (C) sequestered in terrestrial pools, and that such practices should therefore be rewarded rather than penalized in C-accounting schemes. By evaluating how fuel treatments, wildfire, and their interactions affect forest stocks across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, we conclude that this is extremely unlikely. Our review reveals high losses associated with fuel treatment, only modest differences in the combustive losses associated with high-severity fire and the low-severity fire that fuel treatment is meant to encourage, and a low likelihood that treated forests will be exposed to fire. Although fuel-reduction treatments may be necessary to restore historical functionality to firesuppressed ecosystems, we found little credible evidence that such efforts have the added benefit of increasing terrestrial stocks.
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