”Drought Seesaw” Affects Post-Fire Forest Recovery Across West

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The Northwest CASC recently highlighted a new high-profile study on the effects of recurring droughts on Ponderosa Pine recovery after wildfires across the western United States.

A clump of green shoots sprout from a burned stump, while more new growth can be seen atop a line of burned trees

Forest regrowth after a wildfire, like these green shoots growing five weeks after the Tambo Complex fire in Victoria, Australia. (Credit: National Interagency Fire Center) ​​​​​​​

Read the original news story posted by the Northwest CASC,​​​​​​​ here.

As fire seasons across the Western United States become longer and more severe, experts are increasingly concerned that burned forests won’t grow back the way they were. In a new Northwest CASC-funded study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), researchers explored the effects of large-scale droughts on pine forest regeneration across the Interior West. They identified a type of “drought seesaw” that alternates wet and dry conditions between the Northern Rockies and the Southwest every three to four years. Using a combination of seedling establishment models and forest recovery data, they found that Ponderosa Pine regrowth across the region follow observed precipitation patterns, with the slowest recovery occurring during drought cycles and greater tree regrowth occurring under more moist and cool conditions. These results reveal the influence of climate conditions experienced by seedlings immediately post-fire, as slowed pine regrowth can affect regional landscape composition for decades to come. The authors hope that these findings can inform forest managers’ recovery strategies and responses to post-wildfire drought in the West.

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