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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Climate Change Impedes Wildfire Reforestation Efforts

Forest Restoration Area

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study published in Global Ecology and Biogeography of 22 burned areas across the southern Rocky Mountains found that forests are becoming less resilient to fire, turning into grasslands and shrublands instead. The research team, led by the University of Colorado at Boulder, projects that by 2050, as little as 3.5 to 6.3 percent of Douglas fir and ponderosa pine forests in the region will be able to recover after fires. 

Encompassing 710 square miles, from southern Wyoming through central and western Colorado to northern New Mexico, researchers used satellite images and ground measurements to reconstruct what the forests looked like before fires and assess how well the forests were recovering by counting juvenile trees and observing tree rings. The study shows that forest recovery declines significantly under warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change. The number of acres that have burned annually across the country has already doubled since the 1990s, so it may be better to plant seedlings in regions more likely to bounce back rather than in dry sites no longer suitable for survival.
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