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Managing Carbon on Federal Public Lands: Opportunities and Challenges in Southwestern Colorado


Federal lands in the United States have been identified as important areas where forests could be managed to enhance carbon storage and help mitigate climate change. However, there has been little work examining the context for decision making for carbon in a multiple-use public land environment, and how science can support decision making. This case study of the San Juan National Forest and the Bureau of Land Management Tres Rios Field Office in southwestern Colorado examines whether land managers in these offices have adequate tools, information, and management flexibility to practice effective carbon stewardship. To understand how carbon was distributed on the management landscape we added a newly developed carbon map for the SJNF–TRFO area based on Landsat TM texture information (Kelsey and Neff in Remote Sens 6:6407–6422. doi:10.3390/rs6076407, 2014). We estimate that only about 22 % of the aboveground carbon in the SJNF–TRFO is in areas designated for active management, whereas about 38 % is in areas with limited management opportunities, and 29 % is in areas where natural processes should dominate. To project the effects of forest management actions on carbon storage, staff of the SJNF are expected to use the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) and extensions. While identifying FVS as the best tool generally available for this purpose, the users and developers we interviewed highlighted the limitations of applying an empirically based model over long time horizons. Future research to improve information on carbon storage should focus on locations and types of vegetation where carbon management is feasible and aligns with other management priorities.

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This research was supported by USDA NIFA Award COLW-2011-00831. We are grateful to the staff of San Juan National Forest and the Tres Rios Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management for their assistance. Quotes from agency personnel do not necessarily represent the views of the agency that employs them. All findings and interpretation are the sole responsibility of the authors.

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Correspondence to Lisa Dilling.

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Dilling, L., Kelsey, K.C., Fernandez, D.P. et al. Managing Carbon on Federal Public Lands: Opportunities and Challenges in Southwestern Colorado. Environmental Management 58, 283–296 (2016).

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  • Carbon management
  • Sequestration
  • Public lands
  • Decision making
  • Modeling
  • Climate change