Fire suppression in many dry forest types has left a legacy of dense, homogeneous forests. Such landscapes have high water demands and fuel loads, and when burned can result in catastrophically large fires. These characteristics are undesirable in the face of projected warming and drying in the western US. Alternative forest and fire treatments based on managed wildfire—a regime in which fires are allowed to burn naturally and only suppressed under defined management conditions—offer a potential strategy to ameliorate the effects of fire suppression. Understanding the long-term effects of this strategy on vegetation, water, and forest resilience is increasingly important as the use of managed wildfire becomes more widely accepted. Managed wildfire appears to increase landscape heterogeneity, and likely improves resilience to disturbances, such as fire and drought, although more detailed analysis of fire effects on basin-scale hydrology is needed.
Center for Fire Research and Outreach at UC Berkeley
Climate change from human activity nearly doubled the area that burned in forest fires in the American West over the past 30 years, a major new scientific study has found, and larger, more intense fires are all but guaranteed in the years ahead.
On a bone-dry day in August 2013, Kate Wilkin and her fellow fire science students ventured into the dense Stanislaus National Forest in the western Sierra Nevada. They scrambled over roots and fallen trees to identify pines and firs, measure their sizes, and gauge their fuel potential for wildfires.