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

Lance Olsen lance at wildrockies.org
Wed Sep 9 17:11:48 EDT 2015

Baker says and I'm sure believes that fire 
severity is not increasing. It might be worth 
noting that he has consistently reported the 
opposite of what the majority of fire/forest 
scientists are finding. This doesn't necessarily 
make him wrong, or at least not entirely wrong. 
It just means his findings differ markedly from 
what the majority of authoritative researchers 
find when they look at the same issue, and the 
consistency of his minority findings does raise 
the possibility that his research is faulty.

He sure seems correct though, in stressing that 
fire is not increasing only because of fuel 
buildup from past suppression of fire. That's a 
popular idea, and of course there must be fuel 
for fire to happen. But there's plenty of reason 
to accept that drought, heat, and wind are 
combining as the leading force in the start and 
spread of forest fire, savannah fire, and grass 
fire in a changing climate. In that context, it 
matters a bit less what's going on with the fires 
of today than what's coming down the road at 
forests worldwide.

And fire itself may, like the beetle, be of less 
importance to the future of forests than the 
combination of heat with drought.  This trend has 
been described by Overpeck as the problem of "hot 
drought." And Anderegg has found good evidence 
that drought alone is capable of killing, for 
instance, aspen across wide areas of its range. 
Prior to their assessments, found that hot 
drought killed pinyon pine at "massive" scale, 
without the help of fire or beetles.

>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 
>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 region.
>* 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 Oregon.
>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: 
>Contact person: Dr. William Baker, 970-403-3862, Email
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Behind complexity, there is always simplicity to 
be revealed. Inside simplicity, there is always 
complexity to be discovered."
-Gang Yu
"Š energy consumption in 1960 was about half what 
it is now Š. Surely we had a civilized country 
then, with roads, electricity, entertainment, and 
so on. Š. Have we, by doubling our energy 
consumption, doubled our happiness?"

Kimon Valaskakis, Peter S. Sindell, J. Graham 
Smith, and Iris Fitzpatrick-Martin. The Conserver 
Society. 1970. Harper & Row.

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