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  1. Alaska is globally significant for its large tracts of intact habitats, which support complete wildlife assemblages and many of the world’s healthiest wild fisheries, while also storing significant amounts of carbon. Alaska has 1/3 of United States federal lands, the bulk of the United States’ intact and wild lands, and over half of the country’s total terrestrial ecosystem carbon on federal lands. Managing Alaska’s public lands for climate and biodiversity conservation purposes over the next 30–50 years would provide meaningful and irreplaceable climate benefits for the United States and globe. Doing so via a co-management approach with Alaska’s 229 federally recognized tribes is likely not only to be more effective but also more socially just. This paper lays out the scientific case for managing Alaska’s public lands for climate stabilization and resilience and addresses three primary questions: Why is Alaska globally meaningful for biodiversity and climate stabilization? Why should Alaska be considered as a key element of a climate stabilization and biodiversity conservation strategy for the United States? What do we need to know to better understand the role of Alaska given future scenarios? We summarize evidence for the role Alaska’s lands play in climate stabilization, as well as what is known about the role of land management in influencing carbon storage and sequestration. Finally, we summarize priority research that is needed to improve understanding of how policy and management prescriptions are likely to influence the role Alaska plays in global climate stabilization and adaptation. 
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  2. Abstract

    Atmospheric greenhouse gases (GHGs) must be reduced to avoid an unsustainable climate. Because carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere and sequestered in forests and wood products, mitigation strategies to sustain and increase forest carbon sequestration are being developed. These strategies require full accounting of forest sector GHG budgets. Here, we describe a rigorous approach using over one million observations from forest inventory data and a regionally calibrated life-cycle assessment for calculating cradle-to-grave forest sector emissions and sequestration. We find that Western US forests are net sinks because there is a positive net balance of forest carbon uptake exceeding losses due to harvesting, wood product use, and combustion by wildfire. However, over 100 years of wood product usage is reducing the potential annual sink by an average of 21%, suggesting forest carbon storage can become more effective in climate mitigation through reduction in harvest, longer rotations, or more efficient wood product usage. Of the ∼10 700 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalents removed from west coast forests since 1900, 81% of it has been returned to the atmosphere or deposited in landfills. Moreover, state and federal reporting have erroneously excluded some product-related emissions, resulting in 25%–55% underestimation of state total CO2emissions. For states seeking to reach GHG reduction mandates by 2030, it is important that state CO2budgets are effectively determined or claimed reductions will be insufficient to mitigate climate change.

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  3. Strategies to mitigate carbon dioxide emissions through forestry activities have been proposed, but ecosystem process-based integration of climate change, enhanced CO 2 , disturbance from fire, and management actions at regional scales are extremely limited. Here, we examine the relative merits of afforestation, reforestation, management changes, and harvest residue bioenergy use in the Pacific Northwest. This region represents some of the highest carbon density forests in the world, which can store carbon in trees for 800 y or more. Oregon’s net ecosystem carbon balance (NECB) was equivalent to 72% of total emissions in 2011–2015. By 2100, simulations show increased net carbon uptake with little change in wildfires. Reforestation, afforestation, lengthened harvest cycles on private lands, and restricting harvest on public lands increase NECB 56% by 2100, with the latter two actions contributing the most. Resultant cobenefits included water availability and biodiversity, primarily from increased forest area, age, and species diversity. Converting 127,000 ha of irrigated grass crops to native forests could decrease irrigation demand by 233 billion m 3 ⋅y −1 . Utilizing harvest residues for bioenergy production instead of leaving them in forests to decompose increased emissions in the short-term (50 y), reducing mitigation effectiveness. Increasing forest carbon on public lands reduced emissions compared with storage in wood products because the residence time is more than twice that of wood products. Hence, temperate forests with high carbon densities and lower vulnerability to mortality have substantial potential for reducing forest sector emissions. Our analysis framework provides a template for assessments in other temperate regions. 
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  4. null (Ed.)
    Abstract The leaf economics spectrum 1,2 and the global spectrum of plant forms and functions 3 revealed fundamental axes of variation in plant traits, which represent different ecological strategies that are shaped by the evolutionary development of plant species 2 . Ecosystem functions depend on environmental conditions and the traits of species that comprise the ecological communities 4 . However, the axes of variation of ecosystem functions are largely unknown, which limits our understanding of how ecosystems respond as a whole to anthropogenic drivers, climate and environmental variability 4,5 . Here we derive a set of ecosystem functions 6 from a dataset of surface gas exchange measurements across major terrestrial biomes. We find that most of the variability within ecosystem functions (71.8%) is captured by three key axes. The first axis reflects maximum ecosystem productivity and is mostly explained by vegetation structure. The second axis reflects ecosystem water-use strategies and is jointly explained by variation in vegetation height and climate. The third axis, which represents ecosystem carbon-use efficiency, features a gradient related to aridity, and is explained primarily by variation in vegetation structure. We show that two state-of-the-art land surface models reproduce the first and most important axis of ecosystem functions. However, the models tend to simulate more strongly correlated functions than those observed, which limits their ability to accurately predict the full range of responses to environmental changes in carbon, water and energy cycling in terrestrial ecosystems 7,8 . 
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  5. Abstract

    Recent prolonged droughts and catastrophic wildfires in the western United States have raised concerns about the potential for forest mortality to impact forest structure, forest ecosystem services, and the economic vitality of communities in the coming decades. We used the Community Land Model (CLM) to determine forest vulnerability to mortality from drought and fire by the year 2049. We modified CLM to represent 13 major forest types in the western United States and ran simulations at a 4‐km grid resolution, driven with climate projections from two general circulation models under one emissions scenario (RCP 8.5). We developed metrics of vulnerability to short‐term extreme and prolonged drought based on annual allocation to stem growth and net primary productivity. We calculated fire vulnerability based on changes in simulated future area burned relative to historical area burned. Simulated historical drought vulnerability was medium to high in areas with observations of recent drought‐related mortality. Comparisons of observed and simulated historical area burned indicate simulated future fire vulnerability could be underestimated by 3% in the Sierra Nevada and overestimated by 3% in the Rocky Mountains. Projections show that water‐limited forests in the Rocky Mountains, Southwest, and Great Basin regions will be the most vulnerable to future drought‐related mortality, and vulnerability to future fire will be highest in the Sierra Nevada and portions of the Rocky Mountains. High carbon‐density forests in the Pacific coast and western Cascades regions are projected to be the least vulnerable to either drought or fire. Importantly, differences in climate projections lead to only 1% of the domain with conflicting low and high vulnerability to fire and no area with conflicting drought vulnerability. Our drought vulnerability metrics could be incorporated as probabilistic mortality rates in earth system models, enabling more robust estimates of the feedbacks between the land and atmosphere over the 21st century.

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  6. Abstract

    Wildfire is an essential earth‐system process, impacting ecosystem processes and the carbon cycle. Forest fires are becoming more frequent and severe, yet gaps exist in the modeling of fire on vegetation and carbon dynamics. Strategies for reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from wildfires include increasing tree harvest, largely based on the public assumption that fires burn live forests to the ground, despite observations indicating that less than 5% of mature tree biomass is actually consumed. This misconception is also reflected though excessive combustion of live trees in models. Here, we show that regional emissions estimates using widely implemented combustion coefficients are 59%–83% higher than emissions based on field observations. Using unique field datasets from before and after wildfires and an improved ecosystem model, we provide strong evidence that these large overestimates can be reduced by using realistic biomass combustion factors and by accurately quantifying biomass in standing dead trees that decompose over decades to centuries after fire (“snags”). Most model development focuses on area burned; our results reveal that accurately representing combustion is also essential for quantifying fire impacts on ecosystems. Using our improvements, we find that western US forest fires have emitted 851 ± 228 Tg CO2(~half of alternative estimates) over the last 17 years, which is minor compared to 16,200 Tg CO2from fossil fuels across the region.

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