18 Mar 2010:
Prescribed Burns in U.S. West
Would Cut Carbon Footprint, Study Says
Prescribed burns in the forests of the western U.S. will prevent larger wildfires and significantly cut the nation’s carbon footprint
, according to a new study. Controlled burns, a forestry management strategy
Click to enlarge
Christine Wiedinmyer; NCAR/Environmental Science & Technology
The projected effects of prescribed burns in U.S. West
used to destroy underbrush and prevent wildfires, would protect the larger trees that store carbon dioxide and help offset greenhouse gas emissions. Using satellite imagery and models that calculate carbon emissions related to wildfires from 2001 to 2008, researchers predicted that prescribed burns could reduce such emissions by 18 to 25 percent — and as much as 60 percent in some areas. The burns would cut carbon emissions by 14 million metric tons annually across 11 western states. “If we reintroduce fires into our ecosystems, we may be able to protect larger trees and significantly reduce the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere by major wildfires,” said Christine Wiedinmyer, a scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) and lead author of the study being published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology
. U.S. officials say forests in the West have become overgrown and vulnerable to large wildfires. That risk could be exacerbated in the future as a warming climate threatens to make forests even hotter and drier. Prescribed burns also may reduce the severity of recent insect infestations that have killed large areas of western forests
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