A new study out of the University of California, Merced, predicts that climate change will likely increase the frequency of large, severe wildfires. This year is already well on its way to setting a new record for acres burned across the country. So far, 4.9 million acres have burned, one million more acres than had burned at this point in 2006, which holds the current record at 9.9 million acres burned.
The large, severe wildfires that have historically occurred infrequently will grow more common as rising temperatures hasten spring snowmelt, lengthening the fire season and drying out the region's mid-elevation forests. "It's really by mid-century that it's going to happen," said the study's lead author, UC Merced environmental engineering and geography professor Anthony Westerling.
In the future, the study's new projections show that the intervals for fire rotation in the region — the amount of time it takes to burn an entire landscape — could drop from a 100-300 year historical average to a mere 30 years, a change that could prevent forests from ever having time to regenerate. Years without large fires will become increasingly rare. Such changes would profoundly and forever alter the character of the West, which is yet another reason why working together to limit our heat-trapping gas pollution in order to mitigate and slow the effects of climate change is so critical.