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Prepare for larger, longer wildfires

Kathie Dello

Climate change makes land management more urgent than ever, says Kathie Dello.

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[...] Scientists must walk a careful line when attributing specific events to climate change. Wildfires are part of a healthy ecosystem and a fact of life in the western United States. Many aspects of a landscape affect them, including past fire suppression, land use and human carelessness.
But climate change increases the threat: fires that do start are larger and last longer. Warmer summer temperatures mean more evaporation. Overall, that means drier forests during the fire season. [...] The cost of fighting US wildfires this year exceeded a staggering US$2 billion, more than half the US Forest Service’s budget. The agency has to use funds to fight fires that would otherwise go towards prevention and forest management. It needs more resources so that plans for prevention can become bolder and more expansive.
In fact, the Forest Service is incorporating some climatic adaptation into its regional plans. These include planting seedlings less densely, for instance. But we need many more plans in place, and we need to make sure that goals are met.
What does adaptation mean for wildfires? We have to manage risk even more aggressively than we have done, and incorporate greater uncertainty. We are likely to need an expansion of the areas considered to be at risk. We should avoid building in the urban–wildland interface and mandate the use of materials that are less likely to catch fire. We can boost attempts to thin woody growth and remove brush. A public-education component is needed as well. [...]

Nature (13 October 2017), 
Key: INRMM:14460384



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