Fire Management to Reduce Carbon Emissions?

By Randi Jandt, Brendan Rogers, and Carly Phillips

This research brief is available as a standalone PDF

To thwart runaway climate warming, the global community is struggling to find strategies to limit carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions that are steeply climbing.  Increasing boreal wildfires in Alaska and Canada also threaten to increase CO2 emissions and could contribute potentially 12 gigatons to the world’s carbon headache by mid-century.

Fire Management strategy could make a difference: A research team from The Woodwell Climate Research Center and Union of Concerned Scientists wondered whether fire management offered a realistic way to slow down the release of legacy carbon in boreal forests, giving Nature and humans time to adapt and implement other mitigation strategies.  How much would it cost to keep Alaskan wildfires at their historic level, avoiding climate-induced predicted increases? And was it even possible to make a difference? In short, the study found that—yes—more fire suppression could keep nearly 1/3 (4 Gt ) of that carbon in the ground in Alaska and Canada. The study tries to estimate costs associated with carbon savings and compares them to other carbon-sparing strategies being used or planned. Project goals are below are from a presentation given to Alaskan fire managers last fall.

Download our short Research Brief above (and/or you can access the full scientific article, open access, HERE:

Phillips, et al. 2022.

Escalating carbon emissions from North American boreal forest wildfires and the climate mitigation potential of fire management.

Science Advances, Vol. 8(17), https://www.science.org/doi/10.1126/sciadv.abl7161

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