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Research

CECS research is focused on four central efforts:

    1. Developing consistent, integrated geospatial datasets to quantify the effects of past and ongoing disturbances to land surface characteristics, including biomass, water balance, vegetation, and fire
    2. Determining the effects of past and ongoing land management activities on land surface characteristics
    3. Building publicly available online tools to inform management decisions, including tools for data download, visualization, assessment of proposed management, and ecosystem service valuation
    4. Valuing the multiple benefits of land management practices in order to incentivize financing of future project

In the first 18 months of this project, CECS researchers have made significant progress toward the first three efforts, and work on the fourth is just getting underway. A full summary of CECS progress through September 2020 is available in our Year 1 Annual Report.

CECS is developing the remote sensing and geospatial tools needed to consistently quantify and integrate the effects of past and ongoing management on four critical characteristics of the land surface:

  • Biomass stocks and carbon dynamics over time
  • Water balance and the delivery of runoff to rivers and groundwater
  • Vegetation resilience and susceptibility to die-off during drought
  • Surface fuels and wildfire spread and severity across the landscape.

Efforts thus far have involved collecting and homogenizing existing data; improving data about past management and disturbances; creating new datasets for surface fuels, detrital carbon stocks, and water and carbon exchanges; and testing revised data layers. This work is core to determining the effects of past management.

Datasets homogenized/produced by CECS.

Understanding trends in past disturbances like wildfire, timber harvests, and tree die-off and their long-term effects on ecosystem services is central to quantifying the net benefits of different management options.

Using refined, integrated geospatial datasets, the CECS team is examining past wildfires and other disturbances to better understand how ecosystem services change over several decades post-disturbance. CECS is generating recovery curves for areas impacted by such disturbances, showing the immediate post-disturbance effect, half-life, and integrated effect. Using machine learning, these recovery curves from past disturbances can be used to project the effects of proposed future management actions.

This information will feed into web-based tools for stakeholders and decision makers to weigh management choices according to priority ecosystem service benefits.

Informed by input from our stakeholders, CECS is developing a suite of web-based tools for scientists, land managers, legislators, the private sector, and the public. The four kinds of tools will include:

  • Data download: tailored spatial datasets for download and use
  • Visualization: interactive map for visualizing geospatial trends of key attributes that define the landscape’s physiographic state 
  • Decision support: interactive map delivering an assessment of change after disturbance/forest management practice
  • Ecosystem service valuation: Site-specific tools for valuation of land management outcomes
The decision-support tool will allow users to identify a project area, observe current conditions, and choose a management intensity for the project area. The tool will then forecast changes in carbon, water, fire probability, and forest health over a 30-year period in the future.

Forest restoration provides many benefits in addition to reducing the risk of high-severity wildfires, including sustaining forest carbon stores, increasing streamflow and water supply, reducing the threat of erosion, and much more, with beneficiaries at many scales. The ability to project and verify these many benefits is key to driving public and private investments in restoration projects, but there are few methods available to do so.

The CECS team is developing tools for valuing ecosystem services in order to overcome key information roadblocks to monetizing the benefits of restoration and apportioning benefits. The primary focus is on carbon, water, and wildfire risk reduction, further extending to air quality, public health, and local community benefits.    

These valuation tools can be leveraged to support partnerships and agreements, on a project-by-project basis, to motivate project investments from the different beneficiaries, accelerating the pace and scale of much needed restoration.

Credit: Brie Anne Coleman, Placer County Water Agency.