Increases in pinyon and juniper woodland cover associated with land-use history are suggested to provide offsets for carbon emissions in arid regions. However, the largest pools of carbon in arid landscapes are typically found in soils, and aboveground biomass cannot be considered long-term storage in fire-prone ecosystems. Also, the objectives of carbon storage may conflict with management for other ecosystem services and fuels reduction. Before appropriate decisions can be made it is necessary to understand the interactions between woodland expansion, management treatments, and carbon retention. We quantified effects of prescribed fire as a fuels reduction and ecosystem maintenance treatment on fuel loads, ecosystem carbon, and nitrogen in a pinyon–juniper woodland in the central Great Basin. We found that plots containing 30% tree cover averaged nearly 40 000 kg · ha−1 in total aboveground biomass, 80 000 kg · ha−1 in ecosystem carbon (C), and 5 000 kg · ha−1 in ecosystem nitrogen (N). Only 25% of ecosystem C and 5% of ecosystem N resided in aboveground biomass pools. Prescribed burning resulted in a 65% reduction in aboveground biomass, a 68% reduction in aboveground C, and a 78% reduction in aboveground N. No statistically significant change in soil or total ecosystem C or N occurred. Prescribed fire was effective at reducing fuels on the landscape and resulted in losses of C and N from aboveground biomass. However, the immediate and long-term effects of burning on soil and total ecosystem C and N is still unclear.
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Vol. 63 • No. 2