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Effects of Road Decommissioning on Carbon Stocks, Losses, and Emissions in North Coastal California


Address correspondence to M. A. Madej, email


During the last 3 decades, many road removal projects have been implemented on public and private lands in the United States to reduce erosion and other impacts from abandoned or unmaintained forest roads. Although effective in decreasing sediment production from roads, such activities have a carbon (C) cost as well as representing a carbon savings for an ecosystem. We assessed the carbon budget implications of 30 years of road decommissioning in Redwood National Park in north coastal California. Road restoration techniques, which evolved during the program, were associated with various carbon costs and savings. Treatment of 425 km of logging roads from 1979 to 2009 saved 72,000 megagrams (Mg) C through on-site soil erosion prevention, revegetation, and soil development on formerly compacted roads. Carbon sequestration will increase in time as forests and soils develop more fully on the restored sites. The carbon cost for this road decommissioning work, based on heavy equipment and vehicle fuel emissions, short-term soil loss, and clearing of vegetation, was 23,000 Mg C, resulting in a net carbon savings of 49,000 Mg C to date. Nevertheless, the degree to which soil loss is a carbon sink or source in steep mountainous watersheds needs to be further examined. The ratio of carbon costs to savings will differ by ecosystem and road removal methodology, but the procedure outlined here to assess carbon budgets on restoration sites should be transferable to other systems.