Sometimes even the best laid plans go awry. Despite being the first state in the United States to make cutting greenhouse gas emissions mandatory, California’s forests are betraying those efforts by pumping out more carbon than they can absorb. Live Science reports that Governor Jerry Brown has set up a special task force, the Forest Climate Action Team, to figure out how to reverse a troubling trend, caused mostly by wildfires, that creates obstacles to the state’s goal to reach 1990 CO2 levels by 2030.
United States Park Service Climate Scientist Patrick Gonzales led the state’s largest carbon accounting project to date, according to Live Science. Commissioned and partly funded by California’s air resources board, the study found that between 2001 and 2010, California’s forests emitted 8 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions – more than the entire state of Vermont. Wildfires account for two thirds of those emissions. The results of the study were published in the journal Forest Ecology and Management.
While California’s extended drought and rising year-round temperatures have made its forests more vulnerable to wildfire, Live Science pins the blame squarely on decades of fire suppression. It used to be common practice to snuff out a fire, which occurs naturally in nature, as soon as it started. But that policy resulted in the forest floor becoming overgrown with young trees that burn hotter and longer. Which is partially why the new task force might be effective. If the forest service can pinpoint new forest management strategies, they may be able to return equilibrium to California’s forests and meet its progressive carbon-cutting objectives.
Via Live Science