Year of Award
Master of Science (MS)
Department or School/College
College of Forestry and Conservation
Solomon Z. Dobrowski
Anna Sala, Cara R. Nelson
forest carbon, regeneration, sensitivity analysis, tree mortality, wildfire
University of Montana
Forest fuel treatments such as thinning and burning have been proposed as tools to stabilize carbon stocks in fire-prone forests in the Western U.S. Although treatments immediately reduce forest carbon storage, losses may be paid back over the long-term if treatment sufficiently reduces future wildfire severity. Less severe wildfire produces fewer direct and indirect carbon emissions, and severely burned stands may be more susceptible to deforestation. Although fire severity and post-fire tree regeneration have been indicated as important influences on long-term carbon dynamics, it remains unclear how natural variability in these processes might affect the ability of fuel treatments to protect forest carbon resources. We surveyed a wildfire where fuel treatments were put in place before fire and estimated the short-term impact of treatment and wildfire on aboveground carbon stocks at our study site. We then used a common vegetation growth simulator in conjunction with sensitivity analysis techniques to assess how timescales of carbon recovery after fire are sensitive to variation in rates of fire-related tree mortality, and post-fire tree regeneration. We found that fuel reduction treatments were successful at ameliorating fire severity at our study site by removing an estimated 36% of aboveground biomass. Treated and untreated stands stored similar amounts of carbon three years after wildfire, but differences in fire severity were such that untreated stands maintained only 7% of aboveground carbon as live trees, versus 51% in treated stands. Over the long-term, our simulations suggest that treated stands in our study area will recover baseline carbon storage 10-35 years more quickly than untreated stands. Our sensitivity analysis found that rates of fire-related tree mortality strongly influence estimates of post-fire carbon recovery. Rates of regeneration were less influential on recovery timing, except when fire severity was high. Our ability to understand how anthropogenic and natural disturbances affect forest carbon resources hinges on our ability to adequately represent processes known to be important to long-term forest carbon dynamics. To the extent that fuel treatments are able to ameliorate tree mortality rates or prevent deforestation resulting from wildfire, treatments may be a viable strategy to stabilize existing forest carbon stocks.
Carlson, Christopher Hale, "Variation in tree mortality and regeneration affect forest carbon recovery following fuel treatments and wildfire" (2011). Graduate Student Theses, Dissertations, & Professional Papers. 1166.
© Copyright 2011 Christopher Hale Carlson