It is intuitively obvious to many that wildfires produce enormous amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs). But as climate change mitigation strategies, including legislation and policy, focus on ways to reduce and sequester GHGs where possible, many are beginning to investigate whether forest management has a measurable effect on GHGs. More importantly, do we know enough to create accounting rules that might give credit to particular landowners or discrete projects for reducing GHGs or sequestering carbon through forest management?
The Alder Springs project was initiated, in part, to address this accounting issue. Prompted by efforts to establish quantification and accounting protocols to meet state and regional policy goals, a stewardship project on the Mendocino National Forest provided an opportunity to research the measurement of carbon benefits from forest management. The project tracks changes in forest carbon stocks owing to implementation of hazardous fuel reduction prescriptions. It also measures the benefits of offsetting fossil fuel emissions by using a portion of the harvested material for biomass electricity generation. Data are compiled on machine-hour production rates and personnel time in harvesting operations, as well as the energy content of the chips removed and transported to two biomass power plants in northern California.
The presentation will outline the research goals of the Alder Springs project, place those goals in the larger context of greenhouse gas accounting and forestry protocols, and outline some of the scientific challenges inherent in tracking carbon through the system. One of the more challenging aspects of the project’s calculations is to model the differences in wildfire GHGs between the project area under a treated condition versus what would have happened under similar fire and weather conditions had the treatments not been implemented. Questions are raised about the ability to measure with sufficient precision the GHG “savings” that can be provided by investments in thinning for hazardous fuels reduction. The presentation will briefly describe the modeling and data challenges that need to be addressed, as well as some of the life cycle analysis issues that are raised by the increasing interest in forest carbon “offsets” based on hazardous fuel reduction projects.