Identifying opportunity hot spots for reducing the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in western US conifer forests

Jamie L. Peeler, Lisa McCauley, Kerry L. Metlen, Travis Woolley, Kimberley T. Davis, Marcos D. Robles, Ryan D. Haugo, Karin L. Riley, Philip E. Higuera, Joseph E. Fargione, Robert N. Addington, Steven Bassett, Kori Blankenship, Michael J. Case, Teresa B. Chapman, Edward Smith, Randy Swaty, Nathan Welch

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

The escalating climate and wildfire crises have generated worldwide interest in using proactive forest management (e.g. forest thinning, prescribed fire, cultural burning) to mitigate the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in forests. To estimate the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss in western United States (US) conifer forests, we used a generalizable framework to evaluate interactions among wildfire hazard and carbon exposure and vulnerability. By evaluating where high social adaptive capacity for proactive forest management overlaps with carbon most vulnerable to wildfire-caused carbon loss, we identified opportunity hot spots for reducing the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss. We found that relative to their total forest area, California, New Mexico, and Arizona contained the greatest proportion of carbon highly vulnerable to wildfire-caused loss. We also observed widespread opportunities in the western US for using proactive forest management to reduce the risk of wildfire-caused carbon loss, with many areas containing opportunities for simultaneously mitigating the greatest risk from wildfire to carbon and human communities. Finally, we highlighted collaborative and equitable processes that provide pathways to achieving timely climate- and wildfire-mitigation goals at opportunity hot spots.

Original languageEnglish
Article number094040
JournalEnvironmental Research Letters
Volume18
Issue number9
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 1 2023

Keywords

  • carbon
  • conifer forest
  • coupled human and natural systems
  • risk
  • vulnerability
  • wildfire

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