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Adapt to more wildfire as climate changes

Key quotes:

  • Policy and management have focused primarily on … fire suppression and fuels management. These strategies are inadequate to address a new era of western wildfires.
  • A new approach is suggested that shifts from the current policy of … restoring ecosystems based on historical baselines to adapting to changing fire regimes and from unsustainable defense of the wildland-urban interface to developing fire-adapted communities … that accepts wildfire as an inevitable catalyst of change and that promotes adaptive responses by ecosystems and residential communities to more warming and wildfire.
  • Adaptive resilience to wildfire means recognizing the limited impact of past fuels management, acknowledging the important role of wildfire in maintaining many ecosystems and ecosystem services, and embracing new strategies to help human communities live with fire.
  • Although fuels build-up in dry forests can increase the area burned … the 462% increase in the frequency of large fires in southwestern forests since the 1970s is also a result of an extension of the fire season by 3.6 months …
  • Promoting more wildfire away from people and prescribed fires near people and the WUI are important steps toward augmenting the adaptive resilience of ecosystems and society to increasing wildfire.
  • … roughly 1% of US Forest Service forest treatments experience wildfire each year, on average. The effectiveness of forest treatments lasts about 10-20 years, suggesting that most treatments have little influence on wildfire … As a consequence of these factors, the prospects for forest fuels treatments to promote adaptive resilience to wildfire at broad scales, by regionally reducing trends in area burned or burn severity, are fairly limited.
  • … fuels management for home and community protection will be most effective closest to homes, which usually are on private land in the WUI where ignition probabilities are likely to be high.
  • Encouraging development away from fire-prone areas, reducing fuels on private lands in and near communities, and retrofitting and building homes to withstand ignition will increase the adaptive capacity for managing more wildfire, similar to adaptive approaches for other natural hazards such as flooding and earthquakes.
  • Patterns of wildfire are changing with rising global temperatures, and will accelerate in the future. What we can do now is focus management efforts on the places where intervention is needed to slow the pace of change and thereby give particular species and ecosystems a chance to adapt.
Here's the paper:
  • Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes