An analysis of wildfire fuel treatments as a carbon offset project type
Fuel treatments involve the removal of biomass from targeted areas in the forested landscape to reduce the risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfires caused by excess biomass in the forest. This report describes a landscape-scale case study in southern central Oregon that modeled the impact of fuel treatments on wildfire behavior and associated carbon dioxide emissions and assesses the project’s ability to generate carbon offsets that meet the quality criteria identified by the Offset Quality Initiative. The report makes two primary findings. The first is that the case study is likely a carbon-neutral project, meaning that few or no offsets would result from the project activity. The second is that, while this project type could generate quality offsets, the adoption rate would likely be low due to the current inability to implement quality offset projects on federal lands and the expense of the activities required to ensure that the carbon benefit is real and permanent. For these reasons, fuel treatment projects are unlikely to be a viable source of quality offsets. This report recommends that a federal policy decision be made to determine if offset projects can involve federal lands. This is important not only for this project type but for others that hope to utilize waste biomass (e.g., biochar and energy generation projects). This report also encourages the development of fuel treatment projects because the risk of uncharacteristically severe wildfires is likely to increase with climate change and such projects provide a host of climate change adaptation and mitigation benefits.