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Fire and the distribution and uncertainty of carbon sequestered as above-ground tree biomass in Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks

February 15, 2017

Fire is one of the principal agents changing forest carbon stocks and landscape level distributions of carbon, but few studies have addressed how accurate carbon accounting of fire-killed trees is or can be. We used a large number of forested plots (1646), detailed selection of species-specific and location-specific allometric equations, vegetation type maps with high levels of accuracy, and Monte Carlo simulation to model the amount and uncertainty of aboveground tree carbon present in tree species (hereafter, carbon) within Yosemite and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks. We estimated aboveground carbon in trees within Yosemite National Park to be 25 Tg of carbon (C) (confidence interval (CI): 23–27 Tg C), and in Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Park to be 20 Tg C (CI: 18–21 Tg C). Low-severity and moderate-severity fire had little or no effect on the amount of carbon sequestered in trees at the landscape scale, and high-severity fire did not immediately consume much carbon. Although many of our data inputs were more accurate than those used in similar studies in other locations, the total uncertainty of carbon estimates was still greater than ±10%, mostly due to potential uncertainties in landscape-scale vegetation type mismatches and trees larger than the ranges of existing allometric equations. If carbon inventories are to be meaningfully used in policy, there is an urgent need for more accurate landscape classification methods, improvement in allometric equations for tree species, and better understanding of the uncertainties inherent in existing carbon accounting methods.

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