The US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture Joint Fire Science Program provided funding for a long-term study to understand the effects of alternative methods for fuel reduction and forest restoration. The nationwide project was initially ended in 2009.
The 2003-2009 Fire and Fire Surrogate Study was a large-scale, collaborative effort, with the Stephens Lab leading the effort at the Blodgett Forest Research Station in the central Sierra Nevada. For years, managers have recognized increased fire hazards in US forests have acted to reduce stem density and fuels by thinning, burning, and/or other vegetation treatments. At the time of the study, however, very little information on the ecological effects of these treatments. Getting this information was the focus of the project.
The nationwide F&FS study encompassed 12 sites in 10 states (Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida). The project:
- Produced the best available information available on the ecological and economic effects of alternative fuel reduction methods;
- Developed national research site infrastructure that has already provided abundant opportunity for collaborative work; and
- Educated over two dozen fire ecologists and managers. Research papers have been used in hundreds of land management plans and have also been cited in the scientific literature a great deal (about 100 journal papers were produced from project).
A summary of the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study research and publications from 2000-2020 can be downloaded below:
The final nationwide report can be found at the link below:
A full list of publications from the still-functioning Fire and Fire Surrogate Study Sites can be downloaded below:
Continuing the Fire and Fire Surrogate Study: carbon costs and benefits of maintaining low fire hazard
While the nationwide F&FS studyended in 2009, Berkeley Forests has been able to continue this research via funding from the state Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund program received in 2015.
Understanding the impact of fuel treatments on carbon is of critical importance for California’s forests. Thanks to numerous studies that have measured the direct carbon impacts of both fire and mechanical treatments, landowner assistance programs such as the GHG Reductions Fund can be carried out with confidence that projects will have net positive benefits. A consistent result of these studies has been that, while treatments may result in a short-term release of carbon, significant carbon sequestration benefits occur following treatments because of long-term storage in forest products (Hartsough et al. 2008, Stephens et al. 2009), reduced wildfire emissions (Stephens et al. 2012), and increased growth of residual trees (Collins et al. 2014). In addition, measurements on other metrics and co-benefits documented other important impacts. While both fire and mechanical treatments will be important tools for reducing fire severity across landscapes, mechanical treatments can be favorable from a carbon perspective. This is because direct emissions from mechanical treatments are small relative to emissions from prescribed fires (Stephens et al. 2009). Further, the risk of losing forest carbon from wildfires can decline following a mechanical treatment and can improve as activity fuel decomposes for a period following the treatment (Stephens et al. 2012). Finally, carbon strength of mechanically treated stands remains high because trees remaining following a mechanical treatment are more vigorous compared to trees following burn treatments (Collins et al. 2014). An important gap in our understanding, however, is the interaction of carbon dynamics with follow-up treatments. Such follow-up treatments will be needed to maintain forests with low fire hazard and a capacity to sequester and store carbon. The alternative is returning to pre-treatment conditions forests with high fire hazard and low carbon strength within decades. Several important questions exist:
- Given that they are typically less intense, do follow-up treatments release lower amounts of carbon compared to initial treatments?
- What is the change in carbon among pools between the initial and second treatments?
- The method of initial treatment (i.e. fire versus mechanical) can greatly influence the type of understory response. How does understory structure influence the carbon impacts of follow-up treatments?
Our objective is to explore these questions in order to help prioritize future treatments that aim to maintain low fire hazard conditions in ways that are carbon-positive.
Following initial installments of a variety of fuel treatments at Blodgett Forest Research Station in 2002, mechanical treatments performed favorably in terms of carbon benefits compared to controls and treatments that included burning (Stephens et al. 2009).