[MCN] Severe Wildfires Not Increasing in Western Dry Forests, Study Finds

Matthew Koehler mattykoehler at gmail.com
Wed Sep 9 16:05:53 EDT 2015

Despite the 'hot' political rhetoric this year – and in previous years –
from Sen Daines, Sen Tester, Rep Zinke, Gov Bullock, the Rocky Mountain Elk
Foundation's CEO David Allen, the timber industry, most of the media and a
handful of pro-logging 'collaborators' at the Montana Wilderness
Association, Montana Trout Unlimited and The Nature Conservancy....severe
wildfires are NOT increasing in western dry forests, according to new reach
by Dr. Willian Baker at the University of Wyoming.

If you value public lands management guided by science and the best,
emerging new research – rather than political winds – please give this
study a read and help counter wildfire hysteria, and hold those who spread
it accountable. Thanks.

- Matthew Koehler
WildWest Institute

*Severe Wildfires Not Increasing in Western Dry Forests, Study Finds*


LARAMIE, Wyo., Sept. 9, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Severe wildfires are often
thought to be increasing, but new research published today in the
international science journal PLOS ONE shows that severe fires from
1984-2012 burned at rates that were less frequent than historical rates in
dry forests (low-elevation pine and dry mixed-conifer forests) of the
western USA overall, and fire severity did not increase during this period.

The study by Dr. William Baker of the University of Wyoming compared
records of recent severe fires across 63 million acres of dry forests,
about 20% of total conifer forest area in the western USA, with data on
severe fires before A.D. 1900 from multiple sources.

"Infrequent severe fires are major ecosystem renewal events that maintain
biological diversity, provide essential habitat for wildlife, and diversify
forest landscapes so they are more resilient to future disturbances," said
Dr. Baker. "Recent severe fires have not increased because of
mis-management of dry forests or unusual fuel buildup, since these fires
overall are occurring at lower rates than they did before 1900. These data
suggest that federal forest restoration and wildfire programs can be
redirected to restore and manage severe fires at historical rates, rather
than suppress them."

Key findings from the new study:

• Rates of severe fires in dry forests from 1984-2012 were within the
pre-1900 range, or were less frequent, overall across the western USA and
in 42 of 43 smaller analysis regions.

• It would take more than 875 years, at 1984-2012 rates, for severe fires
to burn across all dry forests, which is longer than the range of 217-849
years across pre-1900 forests. These forests have ample time to regenerate
after severe fires and reach old age before the next severe fire.

• Severe fires are not becoming more frequent in most areas, as a
significant upward trend in area burned severely was found in only 3 of 23
dry pine analysis regions and 1 of 20 dry mixed-conifer regions in parts of
the Southwest and Rocky Mountains from 1984-2012. Also, the fraction of
total fire area that burned severely did not increase overall or in any

• Although not yet occurring in most areas, increases in severe fire
projected by 2046-2065 could be absorbed in most regions without exceeding
pre-1900 rates, but it would be wise to redirect housing and infrastructure
into safer settings and reduce fuels near them.

Pre-1900 rates of severe fires were calculated from land-survey records
across 4 million acres of dry forests in Arizona, California, Colorado, and
Oregon, and analysis of government Forest Inventory and Analysis records
and early aerial photography. These reconstructions are corroborated by
paleo-charcoal records at seven sites in Arizona, Idaho, New Mexico, and

Dr. William L. Baker is an Emeritus Professor in the Program in
Ecology/Department of Geography at the University of Wyoming, Laramie,
Wyoming. He is the author of over 120 peer-reviewed scientific
publications, and also contributed to the new book, The Ecological
Importance of Mixed-Severity Fires: Nature's Phoenix, which features the
work of 27 scientists from around the world.

His new study, titled "Are high-severity fires burning at much higher rates
recently than historically in dry-forest landscapes of the western USA?",
was published today in the international scientific journal PLOS ONE, and
is freely available at: http://dx.plos.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0136147
Contact person: Dr. William Baker, 970-403-3862, Email
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