Large, high severity wildfires are of great concern in California. These fires create considerable air pollutant emissions and can compromise ecosystem services such as provision of clean water and wildlife habitat. Forest management treatments (fuel treatments such as prescribed fire and thinning) can reduce negative wildfire impacts and improve overall forest carbon sequestration.

In collaboration with private, public as well as non-governmental organizations, SIG is developing a number of tools that can quantitatively account for these ecosystem services including carbon emission savings, that result from forest management treatments that reduce overall wildfire size and severity.

One exemplar project is focused on avoiding wildfire-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by doing forest fuel treatments in the Sierra Nevada / Eldorado region. This project uses the Avoided Wildfire Emissions Methodology (AWE Methodology) to quantify GHG emissions reductions as a result of implementing fuel treatments in forests that are at risk for wildfire. Fuel treatments qualifying for this protocol include fuel reduction (forest thinning) and prescribed burns. This methodology then tries to identify ecological conditions and fuel treatment approaches that verifiably provide climate benefits.

The AWE methodology includes a variety of factors including: forest carbon increases via stored carbon as a result of reducing wildfire size and severity and preserving forests; GHG reductions as a result of using wood products and renewable energy from fuel treatment byproducts instead of fossil fuels; fossil fuel emissions required for harvesting and processing of wood. This methodology also requires that management scenarios are developed, fire ignition probability and past weather data are incorporated into both management models and carbon reduction scenarios.

After projects are implemented, the emissions reductions and positive environmental benefits are tracked, and can be used to plan management scenarios for similar ecosystems, reducing carbon emissions, protecting homes, and keeping air cleaner wherever they are applied.