Quantcast
Environmental News for a Healthier Planet and Life

Help Support EcoWatch

A Look Back Suggests More Catastrophic Fires ahead for Western U.S.

Climate

Northern Arizona University

Catastrophic wildfires are on the rise in the western U.S. and a set of conditions may be contributing to a perfect storm for more fires, according to Northern Arizona University's (NAU) Scott Anderson, professor in the School of Earth Sciences and Environmental Sustainability.

Anderson said increased fuel loads in the forest are a result of fire suppression, a practice that, when combined with a projection of increasingly drier climates ahead, spells a recipe for increasing disaster for forested ecosystems.

While grazing and fire suppression have kept incidents of wildfires unusually low for most of the last century, the amounts of combustible biomass, temperatures and drought are all rising. The result, Anderson said, is a “fire deficit” in which current conditions and past fire suppression practices have pushed fire regimes out of equilibrium with climate.

“In the near future, since our forests and their fuel loads are not in balance with their natural fire regimens, we can expect to see additional huge fires such as last year’s Wallow Fire that burned 540,000 acres in Arizona and Las Conchas Fire that burned 156,000 acres in New Mexico,” he said.

Anderson and a team of researchers combined resources to examine existing records on charcoal deposits in lakebed sediments, which established a baseline of fire activity throughout the region. The team published its findings last week in the journal of The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The full research study is available online.

“We were able to link fire to changing climate in the West for much of the last 3,000 years,” Anderson said. “With the increase of Euro-Americans in the West, the patterns began to change, first with large fires associated with indiscriminate land clearance, railroad construction and so on, then later with fire suppression.”

Wildfires have been debated for years as either a destructive force of nature that should be eradicated or natural disturbance that keep ecosystems healthy. National policy over the last century had been to respond rapidly to suppress all wildfires, but with increasing occurrence of catastrophic wildfires in the region such practices have come into question. In recent years local forest managers have been given more latitude to evaluate which fires to suppress while ensuring public safety.

Anderson’s research could lead the way to reshaping policy on wildfire response and natural resource management, but he cautioned such a change might be too little too late.

“The fire deficit situation is unsustainable, now and long into the future,” he said. “If it is not addressed quickly—and many of us believe it is too late already—it will likely lead to widespread and long-enduring changes in forest types across the West.”

For more information, click here.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Pexels

By Beth Ann Mayer

Since even moderate-intensity workouts offer a slew of benefits, walking is a good choice for people looking to stay healthy.

Read More Show Less
Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday. JustTulsa / CC BY 2.0

Much of Eastern Oklahoma, including most of Tulsa, remains an Indian reservation, the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday.

Read More Show Less
The Firefly Watch project is among the options for aspiring citizen scientists to join. Mike Lewinski / Wikimedia Commons / CC by 2.0

By Tiffany Means

Summer and fall are great seasons to enjoy the outdoors. But if you're already spending extra time outside because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may be out of ideas on how to make fresh-air activities feel special. Here are a few suggestions to keep both adults and children entertained and educated in the months ahead, many of which can be done from the comfort of one's home or backyard.

Read More Show Less
People sit at the bar of a restaurant in Austin, Texas, on June 26, 2020. Texas Governor Greg Abbott ordered bars to be closed by noon on June 26 and for restaurants to be reduced to 50% occupancy. Coronavirus cases in Texas spiked after being one of the first states to begin reopening. SERGIO FLORES / AFP via Getty Images

The coronavirus may linger in the air in crowded indoor spaces, spreading from one person to the next, the World Health Organization acknowledged on Thursday, as The New York Times reported. The announcement came just days after 239 scientists wrote a letter urging the WHO to consider that the novel coronavirus is lingering in indoor spaces and infecting people, as EcoWatch reported.

Read More Show Less
A never-before-documented frog species has been discovered in the Peruvian highlands and named Phrynopus remotum. Germán Chávez

By Angela Nicoletti

The eastern slopes of the Andes Mountains in central Perú are among the most remote places in the world.

Read More Show Less
Left: Lemurs in Madagascar on March 30, 2017. Mathias Appel / Flickr. Right: A North Atlantic right whale mother and calf. National Marine Fisheries Service

A new analysis by scientists at the Swiss-based International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) found that lemurs and the North Atlantic right whale are on the brink of extinction.

Read More Show Less

Trending

Nobody knows exactly how much vitamin D a person actually needs. However, vitamin D is becoming increasingly popular. Colin Dunn / Flickr / CC by 2.0

By Julia Vergin

It is undisputed that vitamin D plays a role everywhere in the body and performs important functions. A severe vitamin D deficiency, which can occur at a level of 12 nanograms per milliliter of blood or less, leads to severe and painful bone deformations known as rickets in infants and young children and osteomalacia in adults. Unfortunately, this is where the scientific consensus ends.

Read More Show Less