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Washington's forests will lose stored carbon as area burned by wildfire increases
Date:7/24/2012

Forests in the Pacific Northwest store more carbon than any other region in the United States, but our warming climate may undermine their storage potential.

A new study conducted by the U.S. Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station and the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington has found that, by 2040, parts of Washington State could lose as much as a third of their carbon stores, as an increasing area of the state's forests is projected to be burned by wildfire. The studypublished in the July 2012 issue of the journal Ecological Applicationsis the first to use statistical models and publicly available Forest Inventory and Analysis data to estimate the effects of a warming climate on carbon storage and fluxes on Washington's forests.

"When considering the use of forests to store carbon, it will be critical to consider the increasing risk of wildfire," said Crystal Raymond, a research biologist based at the station's Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory and lead author of the study. "Especially in the West, where climate-induced changes in fire are expected to be a key agent of change."

Trees remove and sequester carbon from the atmosphere, in the form of carbon dioxide, acting as important stores, or "sinks," of carbon that help to offset its accumulation in the atmosphere. When trees and other woody material in the forest are burned by fire, they release carbon back to the atmosphere, mostly as carbon dioxide, where it may once again act as a greenhouse gas that promotes warming. This land-atmosphere exchange of carbon is increasingly of interest to land managers seeking ways to actively manage forests to store carbon and help mitigate greenhouse gases.

To explore what effect climate-driven changes in wildfire might have on the ability of Washington's forests to act as carbon sinks, Raymond and station research ecologist Don McKenzie used a novel approach. They combined pub
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Contact: Yasmeen Sands
ysands@fs.fed.us
360-753-7716
USDA Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Source:Eurekalert  

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