University researchers detect unsustainable ‘fire deficit’

A University study published last Tuesday, Feb. 14, diagnosed the American West as in danger of having the highest level of wildfires of the last 3,000 years.

Researchers analyzed sedimentary charcoal build-up in order to construct records of wildfire levels over the past 3,000 years and then compared these records with wildfire data gathered from historical records and fire scars.

The evidence suggests a possibility for increased and potentially more destructive wildfires as a result of modern influxes of drought and combustible fuel and biomass build-up. The researchers said that, without human interference, the region will be prone to a remarkable number of serious wildfires in the future.

The study blames climate change as the primary cause of modern fire patterns, citing a greater number of fire-prone species of trees and vegetation and more dead trees resulting from insects and heat.

“Fire regimes are currently in disequilibrium with the climate due to the opposing forces of fire-exclusion practices (grazing and fire suppression) and global warming; Consequently, a large ‘fire deficit’ exists,” the study said.

“We shouldn’t be surprised with the current amount of forest fires,” said Dan Gavin, University geography professor and study co-author.@@[email protected]@ “Under the current climate condition, there could always be more of them.”

Jennifer Marlon, a National Science Foundation postdoctoral fellow at the University of Wisconsin and the study’s lead author@@[email protected]@, emphasized the unsustainability of the current fire patterns.

“Fire activity in the West is very much out of sync with the current climate. It makes for a very unstable condition,” Marlon said.

The research has gathered interest from the scholarly community and groups including forest services.

“The study has been described as a great representation of reality that’s been hard to define in the past,” Marlon said. “It’s nice to be able to define this problem with analytical data and graphs.”

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