The Vulnerability of Forests to Climate Change and Wildfire in the Southwestern U.S.
Fire in the western U.S. poses one of the greatest threats to human and ecological communities alike. In fact, fire management is the largest single expenditure of land management funds on federal lands. Now, climate change is altering wildfire patterns. Climate change in the West is creating warmer and drier conditions, resulting in an increase in the amount of dead vegetation available to fuel fires.
This project sought to assess the vulnerability of forests in the southwestern U.S. to climate change and wildfire, in order to understand how these ecosystems might become altered as a result. Researchers (a) examined how climate change impacts wildfires in the region, to better understand fire risk; (b) identified where and when vegetation will be most sensitive to changing climate and fire conditions; and (c) determined the ability of vegetation to adapt to changing conditions, given appropriate management. Researchers worked closely with public land managers to develop strategic management plans that enable forests to adapt to the changes that are occurring.
The results of this project are expected to inform strategic management decisions regarding wildfire control on public lands. By identifying the current and future vulnerability of forests to changes in climate and wildfires, this project supports managers in prioritizing areas for proactive fire management in the face of uncertainty. This information may enable managers to more efficiently allocate resources to fire management by targeting areas that are most vulnerable, such as forests with high fuel loads.