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Wildfire carbon emissions primary cause of possible climate doomsday scenario
Reducing the size and severity of wildfires may be the single most important action for combating global warming
(The Problem Oozes From...)

by Oregon State Senator Dennis Linthicum, November Newsletter 2018

"Wildfires are bad and getting worse every year because of a misguided public belief that all fires are good and all management is bad," says Tom Bonnicksen, a retired forestry scientist.

This quote surfaced with regard to President Trumpís desire to increase logging in the West and Bonnicksenís 2008 fire study. The study reviewed carbon emissions and identified wildfire as one of the primary causes for a possible climate doomsday scenario.

His study found that four California wildfires, burning in the northern Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades between 1992 and 2007, released carbon dioxide at levels 19 times greater than previously accepted scientific estimates.

According to his research, each acre of burned forest emitted greenhouse gases equal to the annual exhaust from 48 cars.

Therefore, reducing the size and severity of wildfires may be the single most important action for combating global warming. The solution is obvious. Our public lands need more logging, thinning, and removal of surface fuels.

Oregonís modern forest landscape, like most of the federal forest through-out the western states is composed of forest debris, dead wood, shrubs, and small trees that can approach 40 tons per acre. Current tree densities contain dense new growth surrounding larger trees. The smaller trees combined with grasses, brush and forest debris serve as ladder fuels, and are contributors to the size and severity of todayís wildfires.

The Forest Carbon and Emissions Model (FCEM) can be used to provide scientists with estimates regarding forest carbon storage, sequestration, and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. FECMís underlying parameters and carbon assessment equations come from recognized scientists within the environmental community.

A word of caution, however. The FCEM is a modeling tool. Although models can provide great estimates, as well as valuable feedback, the modelís parameters and input variables should always be part of the discussion. These modeling tools are playing increasingly important roles in calculating carbon sequestration in our public forests and they also provide keen insight into the management of greenhouse gas emissions. This is particularly true with the modern hang-up about global warming.

For example, in the study which assessed four wildfires that burned nearly 150,000 acres of forestland in the Sierra Nevadas, forest density tonnage estimates would need to be revised to properly assess forests on the Eastern-side of the Cascade Range.

Estimates on those California fires suggested that combustion emissions could have been reduced from 46.2 tons per acre to 12 tons per acre if the density of trees had been reduced from 273 per acre to the more natural density of 60 per acre. In terms of modeling for the Eastern-side, densities as low as 30 to 40 trees per acre would be more appropriate.

Given the necessary policy changes that will be required to change 40+ years of ingrained management behavior, we face some very difficult and hard to reconcile decisions.

First, at the federal level, does our Congress have the appetite to push back against the environmental lobby to achieve forest resiliency in our mixed fir and pine forests on the eastern reaches of the Cascades? Second, at the state level,  I will provide leadership for our Joint Senate and House Fire Caucus, within Oregonís legislature, to exercise boldness, not timidity when advocating for comprehensive changes to forest management policy.

Unfortunately, the tragedy of our charred landscape stems from a long-held, one-sided approach for saving old-growth forests with reckless abandon.

We must have a balanced approach to proper forest stewardship. The USFS estimates there may be nearly 70 to 80 million national forest acres in Fire Condition Class 3 - we must act quickly to improve our forestís health, or we will continue to suffer the catastrophic firestorms that destroy our woodlands, watersheds, animal habitat and air quality. Not to mention the very real threats to our lives, our homes and our communities.

The problem isnít from global warming but rather oozes from the one-size-fits-all approach that plagues all our federal agencies. Federal mandates do little to allow meaningful state, county, or local control of the natural resources within our boundaries.

President Trump just might be the one who can drain the bureaucratic swamp and bring common sense and stewardship back to our forests.

 

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