Jul 13 at 3:03pm by Aileen
If you or someone you know has chosen to live in or surrounded by forest – or just maintains a vacation cabin in such a setting – you are probably aware of the threat that wildfires present to property in those settings. And as the population has spread in many states out into more forested regions, many states and the federal government have undertaken forest fire prevention efforts to lessen the impact of such fires.
In the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere plans for fire prevention have included the idea of fuel reduction. This means thinning the forests and eliminating much of the understory growth. A recent study from Oregon State University sought to quantify the carbon sequestration and CO2 impacts of such a plan, and how these things affect global climate change.
Forest Fire Prevention Efforts Could Lessen Carbon Sequestration, Add to Global Warming details the issues and the report. The report’s authors came to a somewhat surprising conclusion:
“If fuel reduction treatments are effective in reducing fire severities in the western hamlock, Douglas-fir forests of the west Cascades and the western hemlock, Sitka spruce forests of the Coast Range, it will come at the cost of long-term carbon storage, even if harvested material are used as biofuels.”
The idea of using the plants and trees removed from the forest to lessen fire severity as raw material for biofuels was previously thought to offset the carbon sequestration costs of taking those trees. But it turns out that the production of biofuels isn’t very fossil fuel efficient and that the amount of energy returned doesn’t add up to the amount of energy used.
The kind of material at issue that would be harvested from the forests doesn’t produce good biodiesel fuel, which is better produced from oil-crops and such. Woody trees and shrubs are best used to make ethanol, but that process isn’t yet efficient enough to offset itself.
Another recent OSU study concluded that if the old forests of the Pacific Northwest were left alone or managed exclusively to promote carbon sequestration, they could double the amount of sequestration in many areas, even triple it in some other areas.
Bottom line then appears to be that if you build your house or vacation cabin in the old growth forests of the PNW, you shouldn’t expect to have the state or feds manage that forest so your property isn’t at risk from forest fires. Still, to many people the time spent in such abundant natural surroundings is worth the risk.