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Modeling climate and fuel reduction impacts on mixed-conifer forest carbon stocks in the Sierra Nevada, California

Modeling climate and fuel reduction impacts on mixed-conifer forest carbon stocks in the Sierra Nevada, California

Quantifying the impacts of changing climatic conditions on forest growth is integral to estimating future forest carbon balance. We used a growth-and-yield model, modified for climate sensitivity, to quantify the effects of altered climate on mixed-conifer forest growth in the Lake Tahoe Basin, California. Estimates of forest growth and live tree carbon stocks were made for low and high emission scenarios using four downscaled general circulation model (GCM) projections. The climate scenarios were coupled with a range of commonly-used fuels reduction treatments to quantify the combined effects of these factors on live tree carbon stocks. We compared mid- (2020–2049) and late-21st (2070–2099) century carbon stock estimates with a baseline period of 1970–1999 using common input data across time periods. Recursive partitioning analysis indicates that GCM, forest composition, and simulation period most influence live tree carbon stock changes. Comparison with the late 20th century baseline period shows mixed carbon stock responses across scenarios. Growth varied by species, often with compensatory responses among dominant species that limited changes in total live tree carbon. The influence of wildfire mitigation treatments was relatively consistent with each GCM by emission scenario combination. Treatments that included prescribed fire had greater live tree carbon gains relative to baseline under the scenarios that had overall live tree carbon gains. However, across GCMs the influence of treatments varied considerably among GCM projections, indicating that further refinement of regional climate projections will be required to improve model estimates of fuel manipulations on forest carbon stocks. Additionally, had out simulations included the effects of projected climate changes on increasing wildfire probability, the effects of management treatments on carbon stocks may have been more pronounced because of the influence of treatment on fire severity.

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