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Rim Fire Ecosystem Damage Estimated at $800 Million

| December 27, 2013
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The Rim Fire has consumed more than 237,341 acres and is 80 percent contained. (Grace Rubenstein / KQED)

Crews clean up the charred landscape after the Rim Fire consumed more than 250,000 acres. (Grace Rubenstein / KQED)

A new report on this year’s Rim Fire in and around Yosemite National Park estimates that damage to the ecosystem may have cost as much as $800 million.

“The Economic Impact of the 2013 Rim Fire on Natural Lands” (embedded below), prepared by Earth Economics for the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, looked at losses not usually noted by traditional economists.

The report notes that humans receive environmental benefits, or “ecosystem services,” from nature. It says the oak and pine trees, and other flora, provide a useful function by absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, and the Rim Fire blaze has reduced that oxygen output.

The value of carbon storage lost in the fire is between $102 and $797 million, the 45-page report said, using data collected in September, before the Rim Fire was fully contained. The range of estimates is wide because costs are based not on specific sites but on past studies on how wildfire damages ecosystem services.

The report explained:

A supplemental analysis was used to estimate the economic value of stored carbon within the Rim Fire burn area both before and after the fire. US Forest Service data on the carbon content of different forest stand ages for each forest type, combined with pre-fire timber diameter size data and burn data, were used to compare pre-fire carbon storage with post-fire carbon storage. The value of total carbon storage losses is estimated at $102 million to $797 million….

Some trees partially fire damaged and green in satellite imagery will suffer mortality within the next year, thus, this analysis represents an initial and conservative underestimate of fire damage. …

According to the report, vegetation in the Rim Fire burn area had stored carbon that otherwise would rise into the atmosphere and contribute to a general warming of the climate. The fire, said the Modesto Bee, “sent a huge blast of carbon into the sky and impaired for decades the forest’s ability to capture it.

“The report cited lost ecosystem services related to recreation, water supply, aesthetics and other categories in the national forest and on burned land in Yosemite National Park and private ownership.”

The fire has reduced the value of nearby private property by between $49.7 and 265 million, the report said.

The Rim Fire  began on August 17 and was not completely contained until October 24.  It was the third largest wildfire in California’s history, burning 400 square miles from Groveland in the Stanislaus National Forest into the western stretches of Yosemite National Park, and threatening the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

Here is the Earth Economics report:

Earth Economics Rim Fire Report 11.27.2013

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