Fire risk and carbon storage are related environmental issues because fire reduction results in carbon storage through the buildup of woody vegetation, and stored carbon is a fuel for fires. The sustainability of the U.S. carbon sink and the extent of fire activity in the next 100 yr depend in part on the type and effectiveness of fire reduction employed. Previous studies have bracketed the range of dynamics from continued fire reduction to the complete failure of fire reduction activities. To improve these estimates, it is necessary to explicitly account for fire reduction in terrestrial models. A new fire reduction submodel that estimates the spatiotemporal pattern of reduction across the United States was developed using gridded data on biomass, climate, land-use, population, and economic factors. To the authors’ knowledge, it is the first large-scale, gridded fire model that explicitly accounts for fire reduction. The model was calibrated to 1° × 1° burned area statistics [Global Burnt Area 2000 Project (GBA-2000)] and compared favorably to three important diagnostics. The model was then implemented in a spatially explicit ecosystem model and used to analyze 1620 scenarios of future fire risk and fire reduction strategies. Under scenarios of climate change and urbanization, burned area and carbon emissions both increased in scenarios where fire reduction efforts were not adjusted to match new patterns of fire risk. Fuel reducing management strategies reduced burned area and fire risk, but also limited carbon storage. These results suggest that to promote carbon storage and minimize fire risk in the future, fire reduction efforts will need to be increased and spatially adjusted and will need to employ a mixture of fuel-reducing and non-fuel-reducing strategies.

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Earth Interactions


American Meteorological Society

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