The Impacts of Black Carbon

When AB 32 was passed in 2006, along with it came a host of regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  Everything from diesel regulations, to burn restrictions to renewable energy.

And California has worked hard to lower its emissions under these policies.

However, as we approach Wildfire Awareness Week, we must also talk about the importance of our forests in this grand plan.

Our forests sequester huge amounts of carbon out of the atmosphere.  In fact, some estimates show that California forests sequester 2.469 billion tons of carbon each year.

But as much good as they do our environment and our economy, they are also at extreme risk and can serve as the single largest emitter of pollution during and after a wildfire.  So much so, that all the other reductions become inconsequential.

In fact, according to ARB’s Proposed Short-Lived Climate Pollutant Reduction Strategy, one average wildfire season in California contributes 2/3rds of all California’s black carbon emissions.

Black Carbon is one of the most potent greenhouse gases (GHGs) and has numerous health impacts including respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer and even birth defects.

And like other GHGs, it has ecological impacts as well.  In fact, black carbon has shown to have a significant impact on global warming and is only 2nd to CO2 in the amount of heat it traps in the atmosphere.

Although we know as forest managers, we can’t stop all occurrences of wildfire, we can certainly proactively manage our forests in in a way that reduces catastrophic fires and its impacts.

Proactive forest management can thin the trees, reduce ladder fuel, reduce fuel loads on the ground and create safety fuel breaks to protect communities.

Furthermore, these types of activities create healthier forests, more resilient to future natural disasters.

While private forestland owners manage their lands for all the economic and environmental values, there is a huge backlog of projects on federal lands, that likely won’t ever be touched.

In fact, the U.S.F.S. has a back log of 310,000 acres to treat in California alone.

Admittedly, they don’t have the funds to do much proactive management because it ends up being diverted to suppression activities instead.

While we support a fire funding fix at the federal level, we need to get creative to help swing the pendulum to proactive management versus suppression.  Studies have proven that proactive management costs far less then suppression, not just in terms of dollars, but also the impacts to our environment.

While fire suppression will always be necessary, it will be prevention that truly saves our forests from wildfire.