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Alaska ecologists explain how the relationship between wildfire and climate may vary by region, and that not all hot and dry forests are conducive to large wildfire events.

Preparing and responding to the impact wildfires have on people, habitats, and animals can be quite challenging for fire managers. The relationship between climate and wildfire is most often understood to be that hotter and drier conditions equal more and larger wildfires. Yet not all ecosystems respond to hotter and drier climate the same way.

In an article in The Conversation, Alaska CASC research ecologist Jeremy Littell and co-authors use research on the Sierra Nevada mountains in California to explain how the interactions among climate, plant growth and wildfire might affect this area in unexpected ways under hotter and drier climates.

They describe how, over decades, increasingly hotter and drier climate could increase the number of dead and dying trees while also decreasing new growth. This leaves less fuel available to burn as the dead trees decompose and fewer live ones replace them, meaning that future increased drought and temperatures may result in a smaller area burned by wildfire.

The authors go on to note that “understanding the intricate relationship among climate, fuels and wildfire can help managers prioritize areas where more fire will be beneficial and areas where different approaches may be preferred.”

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