Forests are becoming slow to recover after wildfires

Photo: Andrew Weaver

Wildfires across the Western United States have been made more intense and more frequent due to climate change and now a team of researchers from the University of Montana, the University of Colorado and the U.S. Forest Service have found evidence suggesting that low-elevation forests have been facing difficult recoveries after forest fires also as a result of climate change. The researchers discovered that regenerating young fir trees in several western states were unable to grow and flourish as a result of the warmer and drier conditions experienced over the past several decades. 

As Phys reported, “to learn more about the possible impact of on forest regeneration, the researchers studied from approximately 3,000 young trees in parts of Colorado, California and the Northern Rockies. They compared the results with climate data for the same area over the past 30 years, finding what they describe as thresholds for young Douglas fir and ponderosa pine trees—if weather conditions go over the threshold, the young trees die.”  Inside Climate News further explained that the study revealed that:

  • Several factors influence a forest’s regrowth after a wildfire, such as the severity of the fire, regional drought and how the trees produce seeds. The researchers noted that as the region sees fewer years with climate conditions suitable for seedlings to grow, the nature of the trees’ seed production, with heavy crops of cones only every few years, will further limit new growth.
  • Last year, wildfires burned more than 8.7 million acres nationwide, 32 percent higher than the 10-year average according to an annual report by the National Interagency Coordination Center released last week. More than 1.8 million of those acres were in California, the highest in recorded state history, according to state fire officials.

Why This Matters: Previous studies have shown that preserving forests and incorporating better soil conservation practices could mitigate 21% of the United States’ annual GHG emissions. Anthony Swift, director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Canada Project told Inside Climate News that the most recent study “really highlights the fact that we need to begin a national and international conversation about how we can enhance the resiliency of our global forests,” especially how we extract resources from forests and manage their health. As climate change begins to affect how forests grow and recover after natural disasters, we will have to implement more mindful policies to ensure that we don’t lose them as carbon sinks.

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