CAL FIRE's Climate Change Program

The increase of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere is contributing to global warming and other climate changes. These effects are likely to impact the health of California forests and rangelands, the goods and services they provide, and the well-being of people who inhabit and use them.

CAL FIRE is working at local, state and national levels to protect and manage California forests so they can continue to provide net greenhouse gas benefits and so that we can reduce impacts to forests of those climate changes already taking place.

Healthy forests have an important role to play in addressing climate change. Trees remove carbon dioxide, the primary greenhouse gas of concern, from the air and store it as carbon in as they grow. When trees die, they release CO2 back into the atmosphere. Forest damage and loss to wildfires, insects and disease, or development can result in large CO2 emissions.

CAL FIRE has identified five forestry strategies for reducing or mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. They are:

  • Reforestation to sequester more carbon
  • Forestland conservation to avoid forest loss to development
  • Fuels reduction to reduce wildfire emissions and utilization of those materials for renewable energy
  • Urban forestry to reduce energy demand through shading, increase sequestration, and contribute biomass for energy generation
  • Improved management to increase carbon sequestration benefits and protect forest health

These strategies were recognized by the Governor's Climate Action Team reports in 2006 and 2007, and by the Air Resources Board in its Scoping Plan for AB 32, the California Global Warming Solutions Act. The Board of Forestry and Fire Protection, in cooperation with the California Natural Resources Agency, will provide leadership in implementing these strategies for AB 32.

CAL FIRE is also working with stakeholders and other agencies to identify ways to reduce or adapt to unavoidable impacts to forest ecosystems and communities from climate changes that have already begun to occur. Adaptation can be defined as any action or adjustment to natural or human systems to minimize harm or take advantage of benefits from climate change. Adaptation strategies include:

  • Incorporate existing information about climate uncertainties and vulnerabilities into policy development and program planning
  • Improve institutional capacity for additional climate-related assessment, planning and monitoring
  • Develop and implement measures in partnership with stakeholders to increase forest and rangeland resilience, improve land use to address climate change and protect public safety and economic infrastructure, and ensure support and long term investment in adaptation
  • Implement high priority research
  • Monitor climate effects on forest health and the effectiveness of management actions

Climate Change

Forest protection and management can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions primarily through the process of sequestration.  Trees pull carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and convert it to cellulose through the process of photosynthesis.  As part of the Governor's Climate Action Team, CAL FIRE identified and has begun to analyze potential opportunities for GHG mitigation from the following activities:

  • Reforestation: Reforestation is the planting and re-establishment of trees on lands that were previously covered with native forests. Mature forests store more carbon than brush or grasslands, therefore reforestation of burned, diseased or harvested sites will speed up the rate of C02 sequestration and provide more mitigation benefits in the near term.
  • Conservation: Forest conservation preserves forestland by preventing development of forests or conversion to other uses. This protects the existing carbon stored in standing trees and maintains the land's inherent capacity for sequestering maximum amounts of C02 into the future.
  • Forest Managemen: Forest management includes activities to improve forest health and to increase productivity such as reforestation, stand thinning, removal of competing vegetation, fuels reduction and timber harvest. Actions that promote faster growth, bigger trees, and forest stands that are more resistant to insects, disease and fire can result in more rapid C02 sequestration and can reduce risk of emissions from mortality and wildfires.
  • Fuels Management and Biomass: Fuels management is the reduction of tree density, brush or other vegetation to decrease fire hazard. Fuels management in high risk and high hazard areas may result in net mitigation benefits by preventing wildfires and reducing damage. When fuel biomass is used to generate energy rather than burned or directed to landfill, it provides additional benefits as an alternative to fossil fuel.
  • Urban Forestry: Urban forestry is the planting and management of trees in urban areas. Urban trees that shade houses can reduce energy use for air conditioning in hot climates. They also sequester C02 as they grow. Finally, if urban wood waste is used to generate energy, it reduces the use of fossil fuels.

Climate Mitigation

Carbon Sequestration Yields and Price Analyses for Forest Management and Reforestation

  • Research project at CAL FIRE's LaTour Demonstration State Forest in Shasta County which examines the effects of different management strategies on forest growth and carbon yields, and the economic implications for landowner investments in forest carbon projects.

Reforestation Project at Cuyamaca Rancho State Park 

  • California Department of Parks and Recreation in partnership with CAL FIRE, San Diego State University and University of California, Santa Barbara will re-forest patches of landscape on intensively burned areas of Cuymaca Rancho State Park in San Diego to provide wildlife habitat, recreation, watershed and climate benefits.

Greenhouse Gas Reduction

  • CAL FIRE's carbon footprint(link)