A new University of Idaho study says human-caused climate change is the reason more of the forest is burning each year in the West.
Researchers at U of I and Columbia University found that, because of climate change, the amount of land burned in Western forest fires has nearly doubled in the last 30 years.
They found that climate change has made spring and summer warmer since 1950. That warming has led to dryer conditions in western forests. That means more forest has burned, 16,000 square miles more, between 1984 and 2015.
John Abatzoglou is an associate professor at the University of Idaho.
“There’s an undeniable relationship between climate change increasing these measures of fuel dryness in the summer and there’s an undeniable relationship between how fuel dryness relates to how much that burns,” he says.
Abatzoglou says the study found that climate change is already having an impact on the forest. Now they’ve been able to quantify how big that impact is.
“Climate change is marching full steam ahead and that doesn’t necessarily look great for some of the treasures we have on our landscape, especially here in the Mountain West,” he says.
He says the study found that climate change is responsible for roughly half of the land burned in western forests over the past few decades.
Abatzoglou says since 2000, climate change has also added nine additional days per year for high fire potential.
The study was published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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