A single, devastating California fire season wiped out years of efforts to cut emissions that cause global warming. The same fire season also left California’s forests devoid of the large trees planted to offset carbon emissions.
The state’s new approach should make those forests more resilient, according to researchers at the University of California, Davis, in a study published Jan. 28 in Nature Climate Change.
The paper is the first that analyzes how fires, as well as climate-altering storms, affect the state’s remaining forests. It describes the state’s most promising strategies, such as building fire barriers and protecting forests from storm surge.
“We’ve got an opportunity to do something about California’s climate change issue,” said the study’s lead author, UC Davis professor of forest ecology Mark Zoback, who is chair of the UC Davis Department of Forest Ecology and Resource Sciences. “We need to figure out how we can do this.”
Zoback helped write a paper on how to forest in drought years published in the journal Environmental Research Letters last year.
That study found that reducing deforestation in drought years would have the largest impact on reducing greenhouse emissions – a key consideration in California’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming.
“In a drought year, we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and help the state of California,” Zoback said. “What we need to figure out is how to do this in a way that is sustainable in the long term.”
‘We have to start somewhere’
California has had two major wildfires this year – the Camp Fire near Paradise and the Woolsey fire in northern California. The fires displaced thousands of people, destroyed more than 2,000 buildings and created the largest fire-related evacuation in the state’s history.
In September, California’s governor declared a state of emergency in more than 20 counties, and on Oct. 1 the National Guard helped California police and firefighters control the fires.