skip to main content

Title: Saving the Forest from the Trees: Expert Views on Funding Restoration of Northern Arizona Ponderosa Pine Forests through Registered Carbon Offsets
Ponderosa pine forests in the southwestern United States of America are overly dense, increasing the risk of high-intensity stand-replacing wildfires that result in the loss of terrestrial carbon and release of carbon dioxide, contributing to global climate change. Restoration is needed to restore forest structure and function so that a more natural regime of higher frequency, lower intensity wildfires returns. However, restoration has been hampered by the significant cost of restoration and other institutional barriers. To create additional revenue streams to pay for restoration, the National Forest Foundation supported the development of a methodology for the estimation and verification of carbon offsets generated by the restoration of ponderosa pine forests in northern Arizona. The methodology was submitted to the American Carbon Registry, a prominent carbon registry, but it was ultimately rejected. This paper presents a post-mortem examination of that methodology and the reasons it was rejected in order to improve the development of similar methodologies in the future. Using a mixed-methods approach, this paper analyzes the potential atmospheric carbon benefits of the proposed carbon offset methodology and the public and peer-reviewed comments from the associated review of the methodology. Results suggest a misalignment between the priorities of carbon registries and more » the context-specific ecosystem service benefits of this type of restoration; although findings confirm the potential for reductions in released carbon due to restoration, these results illuminate barriers that complicate registering these reductions as voluntary carbon offsets under current guidelines and best practices, especially on public land. These barriers include substantial uncertainty about the magnitude and timing of carbon benefits. Overcoming these barriers will require active reflexivity by the institutions that register voluntary carbon offsets and the institutions that manage public lands in the United States. Such reflexivity, or reconsideration of the concepts and purposes of carbon offsets and/or forest restoration, will allow future approaches to better align objectives for successfully registering restoration-based voluntary carbon offsets. Therefore, the results of this analysis can inform the development of future methodologies, policies, and projects with similar goals in the same or different landscapes. « less
; ;
Award ID(s):
Publication Date:
Journal Name:
Page Range or eLocation-ID:
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Climate change is increasing fire activity in the western United States, which has the potential to accelerate climate-induced shifts in vegetation communities. Wildfire can catalyze vegetation change by killing adult trees that could otherwise persist in climate conditions no longer suitable for seedling establishment and survival. Recently documented declines in postfire conifer recruitment in the western United States may be an example of this phenomenon. However, the role of annual climate variation and its interaction with long-term climate trends in driving these changes is poorly resolved. Here we examine the relationship between annual climate and postfire tree regeneration of two dominant, low-elevation conifers (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir) using annually resolved establishment dates from 2,935 destructively sampled trees from 33 wildfires across four regions in the western United States. We show that regeneration had a nonlinear response to annual climate conditions, with distinct thresholds for recruitment based on vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and maximum surface temperature. At dry sites across our study region, seasonal to annual climate conditions over the past 20 years have crossed these thresholds, such that conditions have become increasingly unsuitable for regeneration. High fire severity and low seed availability further reduced the probability of postfire regeneration.more »Together, our results demonstrate that climate change combined with high severity fire is leading to increasingly fewer opportunities for seedlings to establish after wildfires and may lead to ecosystem transitions in low-elevation ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests across the western United States.

    « less
  2. Increasing wildfires in western North American conifer forests have led to debates surrounding the application of post-fire management practices. There is a lack of consensus on whether (and to what extent) post-fire management assists or hinders managers in achieving goals, particularly in under-studied regions like eastern ponderosa pine forests. This makes it difficult for forest managers to balance among competing interests. We contrast structural and community characteristics across unburned ponderosa pine forest, severely burned ponderosa pine forest, and severely burned ponderosa pine forest treated with post-fire management with respect to three management objectives: ponderosa pine regeneration, wildland fuels control, and habitat conservation. Ponderosa pine saplings were more abundant in treated burned sites than untreated burned sites, suggesting increases in tree regeneration following tree planting; however, natural regeneration was evident in both unburned and untreated burned sites. Wildland fuels management greatly reduced snags and coarse woody debris in treated burned sites. Understory cover measurements revealed bare ground and fine woody debris were more strongly associated with untreated burned sites, and greater levels of forbs and grass were more strongly associated with treated burned sites. Wildlife habitat was greatly reduced following post-fire treatments. There were no tree cavities in treated burned sites,more »whereas untreated burned sites had an average of 27 ± 7.68 cavities per hectare. Correspondingly, we found almost double the avian species richness in untreated burned sites compared to treated burned sites (22 species versus 12 species). Unburned forests and untreated burned areas had the same species richness, but hosted unique avian communities. Our results indicate conflicting outcomes with respect to management objectives, most evident in the clear costs to habitat conservation following post-fire management application.« less
  3. Abstract Purpose of Review Increasing wildfire size and severity across the western United States has created an environmental and social crisis that must be approached from a transdisciplinary perspective. Climate change and more than a century of fire exclusion and wildfire suppression have led to contemporary wildfires with more severe environmental impacts and human smoke exposure. Wildfires increase smoke exposure for broad swaths of the US population, though outdoor workers and socially disadvantaged groups with limited adaptive capacity can be disproportionally exposed. Exposure to wildfire smoke is associated with a range of health impacts in children and adults, including exacerbation of existing respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, worse birth outcomes, and cardiovascular events. Seasonally dry forests in Washington, Oregon, and California can benefit from ecological restoration as a way to adapt forests to climate change and reduce smoke impacts on affected communities. Recent Findings Each wildfire season, large smoke events, and their adverse impacts on human health receive considerable attention from both the public and policymakers. The severity of recent wildfire seasons has state and federal governments outlining budgets and prioritizing policies to combat the worsening crisis. This surging attention provides an opportunity to outlinemore »the actions needed now to advance research and practice on conservation, economic, environmental justice, and public health interests, as well as the trade-offs that must be considered. Summary Scientists, planners, foresters and fire managers, fire safety, air quality, and public health practitioners must collaboratively work together. This article is the result of a series of transdisciplinary conversations to find common ground and subsequently provide a holistic view of how forest and fire management intersect with human health through the impacts of smoke and articulate the need for an integrated approach to both planning and practice.« less
  4. Abstract

    Forests mitigate climate change by sequestering massive amounts of carbon, but recent increases in wildfire activity are threatening carbon storage. Currently, our understanding of wildfire impacts on forest resilience and the mechanisms controlling post-fire recovery remains unresolved due to a lack of empirical data on mature trees in natural settings. Here, we quantify the physiological mechanisms controlling carbon uptake immediately following wildfire in mature individuals of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), a wide-spread and canopy-dominant tree species in fire-prone forests. While photosynthetic capacity was lower in burned than unburned trees due to an overall depletion of resources, we show that within the burned trees, photosynthetic capacity increases with the severity of damage. Our data reveal that boosts in the efficiency of carbon uptake at the leaf-level may compensate for whole-tree damage, including the loss of leaf area and roots. We further show that heightened photosynthetic capacity in remaining needles on burned trees may be linked with reduced water stress and leaf nitrogen content, providing pivotal information about post-fire physiological processes. Our results have implications for Earth system modeling efforts because measurements of species-level physiological parameters are used in models to predict ecosystem and landscape-level carbon trajectories. Finally, current land managementmore »practices do not account for physiological resilience and recovery of severely burned trees. Our results suggest premature harvest may remove individuals that may otherwise survive, irrevocably altering forest carbon balance.

    « less
  5. In the United States (US), family forest owners, a group that includes individuals, families, trusts, and estates, are the largest single landowner category, owning approximately one-third of the nation's forests. These landowners' individualized decision-making on forest management has a profound impact on US forest cover and function at both local and regional scales. We sought to understand perceptions among family forest specialists of: climate impacts and adaptation options across different forested US regions; how family forest owners are taking climate adaptation into consideration in their forest management, if at all; and major barriers to more active management for adaptation among family forest owners. We conducted semi-structured interviews with 48 forest experts across the US who work with family forest owners, including extension specialists, state forestry agency employees, and consulting foresters who focus on family forest engagement. Our interviewees shared details on how both climate change impacts and forest management for climate adaptation vary across the US, and they perceived a lack of active forest management by family forest owners. They explained that western forest landowners confronting the imminent threat of catastrophic wildfires are more likely to see a need for active forest management. By contrast, in the east, where mostmore »forestland is privately owned, interviewees said that landowners see relatively fewer climate impacts on their forests and less need for forest management to respond to climate change. Perceived barriers to more active family forest management for climate adaptation include the lack of more robust markets for a wide range of forest products, a higher capacity forestry workforce, education and assistance in planning forest management, and addressing the issue of increased parcelization of family forest lands. We situate these perceptions in conversations on the role of boundary organizations in climate adaptation, how individual adaptation occurs, and how governing methods frame adaptation possibilities.« less