Managing forest carbon and landscape capacities


Widespread impacts of a warming planet are fuelling climate change mitigation efforts world-wide. Decision makers are turning to forests, the largest terrestrial primary producer, as a nature-based contribution to mitigation efforts. Resource-based economies, however, have yet to include carbon (C) in their resource planning, slowing the implementation of these important measures for atmospheric greenhouse gas reduction. The realisation of forest mitigation potential depends greatly on our ability to integrate C-sequestration practices in our forest management applications. This requires robust C-estimates, an understanding of the natural potential for a specific landscape to sequester C, the current state of the landscape relative to this potential, and the evaluation of management practices as a tool to sequester forest C in the midst of all the other values forests offer humans. Discrepancies between models used in management decisions and C estimation are the first hurdle impeding the application of forest-based mitigation strategies. Here, we combine forest disturbance and management models with a well-established C model on an open-source simulation platform. We then use the modelling system to produce C estimates of the natural C-holding capacity (potential) and two management scenarios for a study area in BC, Canada. Our simulations provide an essential metric if forests are to be managed for C-sequestration: the natural landscape C-holding capacity. Our simulations also point to a decreasing trend in simulated C on the study area over time and to a bias of the current C-levels compared to the landscape C-holding capacity (477 vs 405.5 MtC). Our explanations for this bias may provide an avenue for improved current C-state estimates. We provide a framework and the information needed for the implementation of nature-based solutions using forests for climate change mitigation. This study is a step towards modelling systems that can unify scientifically based forest management and informed C-management.

Environmental Research Letters
Ecologist and simulation modeller