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Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Cooperative Restoration Project: Bringing back peatlands while reducing catastrophic wildfire threats Sara Ward,

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Presentation on theme: "Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Cooperative Restoration Project: Bringing back peatlands while reducing catastrophic wildfire threats Sara Ward,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Pocosin Lakes National Wildlife Refuge Cooperative Restoration Project: Bringing back peatlands while reducing catastrophic wildfire threats Sara Ward, USFWS Raleigh Field Office TNC Fire and Pocosins Conference, October 11, 2011

2 Overview Introduction Introduction Pocosins and fire regimes Pocosins and fire regimes History of fire at PLNWR History of fire at PLNWR Recent NC peatland fires Recent NC peatland fires A tool for the toolbox – peatland restoration example, Pocosin Lakes NWR A tool for the toolbox – peatland restoration example, Pocosin Lakes NWR Restoration approach Restoration approach Restoration Benefits Restoration Benefits Costs Costs Restoration Implications Restoration Implications Summary Summary

3 Pre-Alteration Pocosin Fires Frequency: natural return interval determined by soil type, depth, water tableand vegetative community Frequency: natural return interval determined by soil type, depth, water tableand vegetative community Severity: peat ground fire dependent on water table; mostly above ground fire Severity: peat ground fire dependent on water table; mostly above ground fire Source: Frost, 1995 1962 pocosin distribution (Richardson 2003) Today: 70% habitat loss Histosols – fire return interval between 7 and 300 years Histosols – fire return interval between 7 and 300 years Peat bogs with plant communities like those burned at PLNWR and GDSNWR: higher end of range Peat bogs with plant communities like those burned at PLNWR and GDSNWR: higher end of range In particular, AWC-associated return interval > 50 years In particular, AWC-associated return interval > 50 years

4 (in Frost, 1995 1 ) 1 Frost, Cecil C. 1995. Presettlement fire regimes in southeastern marshes, peatlands, and swamps. Pg 39-60 in S.I. Cerulean and R.T. Engstrom, eds. Fire in wetlands: a management perspective. Proc. of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecol. Conf., No. 19. Tall Timbers Res. Station, Tallahassee, FL.

5 (in Frost, 1995 1 ) 1 Frost, Cecil C. 1995. Presettlement fire regimes in southeastern marshes, peatlands, and swamps. Pg 39-60 in S.I. Cerulean and R.T. Engstrom, eds. Fire in wetlands: a management perspective. Proc. of the Tall Timbers Fire Ecol. Conf., No. 19. Tall Timbers Res. Station, Tallahassee, FL.

6 PLNWR Fire History Allen Road Fire March 1985 March 1985 95,000 ac burned 95,000 ac burned Peat loss: 1 m Peat loss: 1 m Estimated C loss: 1-3.8 million tons C 1 Estimated C loss: 1-3.8 million tons C 1 Evans Road Fire 6/1/2008 – January 2009 6/1/2008 – January 2009 40,704 acres 40,704 acres Peat burned Peat burned Non Federal land (private and NC State Park): 24 over 15,350 ac Non Federal land (private and NC State Park): 24 over 15,350 ac Federal land west of Western Rd – 12 over 16,100 ac Federal land west of Western Rd – 12 over 16,100 ac Federal land east of Western Rd – 6 over 9,650 acres Federal land east of Western Rd – 6 over 9,650 acres Estimated C loss: ~10 million tons C 1 Estimated C loss: ~10 million tons C 1 Credit: NCFS-Chris Carlson 1 Michler and Welch, 2011

7 2011 Peatland Wildfires in NC ~ 88K acres burned to date: Source: InciWeb, Incident Information System, www.inciweb.org/

8 So, why are we seeing more frequent and severe pocosin wildfires than predicted?? In a word…drainage! Historically: Historically: Summer water table drawdown (up to 1 m+ 1 ) in domed peat caused some peat fire; rewetting regularly occurred Summer water table drawdown (up to 1 m+ 1 ) in domed peat caused some peat fire; rewetting regularly occurred Seasonal soil saturation limited ground fire potential; allowed vegetation to burn (necessary in pocosin ecosystems) Seasonal soil saturation limited ground fire potential; allowed vegetation to burn (necessary in pocosin ecosystems) Now: Now: Extensive drainage network limits duration of seasonal flooding Extensive drainage network limits duration of seasonal flooding Water table is lowered; peat is aerated/drier Water table is lowered; peat is aerated/drier Drainage prevents even significant rainfall (tropical) retention on landscape Drainage prevents even significant rainfall (tropical) retention on landscape Much more frequent ground fire; significant soil loss Much more frequent ground fire; significant soil loss 1 Ingram and Otte, 1982

9 Fire Return Interval: PLNWR

10 Fire Return Interval: GDSNWR Predicted RI > 50 yrs; Actual – 3 yr. Wildfire recurring in footprint 2008 South One Fire footprint 2011 Lateral West Fire footprint

11 Above ground fuel reduction not always enough…need to address fire vulnerability of peat soils Hydrology restoration Raises water table Allows water storage before (prevention) and during (suppression) wildfires Permits above ground fire for habitat and fire management with less risk Cost effective Many restoration co- benefits Credit: USFWS-V. Carver

12 Hydrology restoration: a tool for the practitioners toolbox PLNWR Cooperative Restoration Project Example Photo: D. Suiter, USFWS Healthy pocosin wetlands

13 PLNWR : Refuge History Land south of Lake Phelps ditched /drained in 60s for ag and peat mining Land south of Lake Phelps ditched /drained in 60s for ag and peat mining Refuge established 1990 with a focus on pocosin restoration Refuge established 1990 with a focus on pocosin restoration Hydrology restoration plan 1994 Hydrology restoration plan 1994 Restoration and research on- going since Restoration and research on- going since

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15 Restoration Approach Install water control structures and culverts Install water control structures and culverts Use raised roads along the canals as levees Use raised roads along the canals as levees Re-saturate historically drained areas via rainfall Re-saturate historically drained areas via rainfall Promote sheet flow via water level management Promote sheet flow via water level management Photo: S.Ward, USFWS Photo: E. Hinesley, NCSU

16 2008: PLNWR partial restoration likely helped Infrastructure complete Infrastructure in progress Planned restoration

17 Importance of pocosin restoration Carbon and nitrogen sequestration Carbon and nitrogen sequestration Restore wildlife habitat and threatened ecosystems Restore wildlife habitat and threatened ecosystems Water quality Water quality Adaptation to climate change Adaptation to climate change Human community benefits Human community benefits Benefits beyond reducing wildfire threat/impacts : Photo: USFWS Photo: SSEC

18 Pocosin restoration = ideal N & C offset Peatland drainage promoted organic matter decomposition and loss of N and C to atmosphere Peatland drainage promoted organic matter decomposition and loss of N and C to atmosphere Restoration stops soil loss: incremental (oxidation) and catastrophic (burning) Restoration stops soil loss: incremental (oxidation) and catastrophic (burning) Since acquisition in 1990, hydrology restoration a priority; project accelerated that effort Since acquisition in 1990, hydrology restoration a priority; project accelerated that effort Drained Condition loss of nitrogen, C and Hg via oxidation (SOURCE) Restored Condition nitrogen, C and Hg sequestration (SINK)

19 Emerging C Markets for Rewetted Peatlands In NC peatlands, sequestration driver is amount C retained that would otherwise be lost without hydrology restoration In NC peatlands, sequestration driver is amount C retained that would otherwise be lost without hydrology restoration Estimated sequestration potential: Estimated sequestration potential: 200 lb/ac/year of N 200 lb/ac/year of N 6500 lb/ac/year of C 6500 lb/ac/year of C Project sequesters the amount of C in ~82,000 tons of CO 2 /yr Project sequesters the amount of C in ~82,000 tons of CO 2 /yr Photo: E. Hinesley, NCSU Equivalent to the average annual CO 2 impact of 11,000 Americans

20 Costs of Restoration Conservative cost range for restoration on conservation lands between $140 (in- house) and $310 (contract) per acre Conservative cost range for restoration on conservation lands between $140 (in- house) and $310 (contract) per acre We estimate PLNWR project cost of ~ $5M if work completed through external contracts We estimate PLNWR project cost of ~ $5M if work completed through external contracts One time investment… annual return One time investment… annual return Photo: E. Hinesley, NCSU

21 Restoration Implications: Avoided Losses Avoided loss of valuable ecological habitat Avoided loss of valuable ecological habitat Avoided wildfire response costs: Avoided wildfire response costs: Evans Rd – nearly $20M by Jan 2009 Evans Rd – nearly $20M by Jan 2009 Juniper Road - $3.5M as of 7-29-2011 Juniper Road - $3.5M as of 7-29-2011 Pains Bay - >$14M as of 8-9-2011; up to $350K/day at peak Pains Bay - >$14M as of 8-9-2011; up to $350K/day at peak Peat soils have potential value in C markets upon restoration Peat soils have potential value in C markets upon restoration C trading at $10/ton, peat worth up to $139M was lost during Allen Rd and Evans Road fires combined C trading at $10/ton, peat worth up to $139M was lost during Allen Rd and Evans Road fires combined Peat soils exhaustible – fires can burn to depth of underlying mineral soil Peat soils exhaustible – fires can burn to depth of underlying mineral soil

22 Summary Restoration will not prevent fire in pocosins; just promotes return to more nature fire regime Restoration will not prevent fire in pocosins; just promotes return to more nature fire regime Frequency and intensity of fires in drained pocosins exceeds natural baseline for these fire-dependent habitats with significant costs Frequency and intensity of fires in drained pocosins exceeds natural baseline for these fire-dependent habitats with significant costs Ecological community impact (e.g. globally threatened AWC) Ecological community impact (e.g. globally threatened AWC) Fire fighting costs/resources in tough budget times Fire fighting costs/resources in tough budget times Feet of soil loss in sea level rise vulnerable areas Feet of soil loss in sea level rise vulnerable areas CO 2 emissions equivalent to industrial releases CO 2 emissions equivalent to industrial releases Tourism and health impacts Tourism and health impacts Evans Rd Fire – positive impact of partial restoration Evans Rd Fire – positive impact of partial restoration Partially-restored pocosins burned far less than neighboring drained lands Partially-restored pocosins burned far less than neighboring drained lands Undrained pocosins and areas where restoration work was complete did not burn Undrained pocosins and areas where restoration work was complete did not burn

23 Summary (cont.) Restoration is cost-effective preventative measure Restoration is cost-effective preventative measure Potential for restoration projects to be important in carbon markets Potential for restoration projects to be important in carbon markets Restored peatlands are a valuable resource Restored peatlands are a valuable resource Took geologic time to form; support unique habitats; rapid loss Took geologic time to form; support unique habitats; rapid loss Value of peat lost exceeds $100M on Evans fire alone Value of peat lost exceeds $100M on Evans fire alone New partners / external funds focused on C or N may expand restoration and even acquisition in future New partners / external funds focused on C or N may expand restoration and even acquisition in future C and N benefits and project costs estimated; 3-year verification study underway…those tools may help others with similar projects C and N benefits and project costs estimated; 3-year verification study underway…those tools may help others with similar projects

24 Thanks! www.fws.gov/raleigh/pdfs/PeatlandRestoration_CSeqBenefits_Jan2010.pdfsara_ward@fws.gov Photo: Hollingsworth, USFWS NCDENR William Ross Dempsey Benton NCSU Horticultural Eric Hinesly U.S. Geological Survey Duke University Wetlands Center The Nature Conservancy Conservation Fund FWS - Raleigh Mike Wicker Tom Augspurger FWS - Refuges Howard Phillips Chris Lowie Mike Bryant Dave Kitts Wendy Stanton Fred Wurster

25 NC Pocosins with Restoration/Enhancement Potential

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27 Juniper Road Fire, 2011 Left: June 19, 2011. Right: July 21, 2011. Photo Credit: USGS


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