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Science and Innovations

Study: Forest Restoration Saves Carbon In Long Run

Melissa Sevigny

A new study by The Nature Conservancy shows forest thinning and prescribed burns cause a short-term loss of carbon to the atmosphere, but save carbon in the long run. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny reports, that’s because healthy forests have bigger trees and experience fewer catastrophic wildfires.

The study used computer simulations to look at the Four Forest Restoration Initiative in Northern Arizona. It found the project’s current pace of restoration (12-15 thousand acres a year) had little effect on carbon storage. But accelerating the pace to 60 thousand acres a year would have carbon savings equivalent to taking more than one hundred thousand cars off the road annually.

Rob Marshall is one of the authors. He says, "It really puts the emphasis on the need to accelerate restoration, whether it’s for just ensuring that we have forests here, or trying to increase sequestration of carbon."

Ecologist David Huffman of Northern Arizona University, who was not involved with the research, says it raises interesting questions about how to pay for restoration:  "How do we place value on carbon storage and improving ecosystem resilience, while really what we’re focused on is the value of trees that are coming off the land, and how we process those?"

Forest restoration work is hampered by a lack of local industry and markets for the wood.

The study also looked at different climate scenarios, and found extreme warm temperatures in the future could essentially cancel out the positive effects of restoration.

It appeared in the journal Ecological Applications.

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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