Wildfires continue to rage across much of California and Colorado, and although most are currently present, scientists fear that the damaged forests could already cause irreversible damage. A search of 1,840 square kilometers (710 square kilometers) of burned area across the South Rocky Mountains found that many of the trees lost in the flames this summer could not return.
Lead author Kyle Rodman said in a statement: “We project that in the future, after a fire, the chances of recovery will be low. A huge percentage of the southern Rocky Mountains will be unsuitable for two important tree species – Ponderosa pine and Douglas fir.”
Scientists at the University of Colorado Boulder have found that changes in the South Rocky Mountains will lead to the redevelopment of half of the native tree species, making estimates worse if human greenhouse gas emissions remain stable, in a study published to Global Ecology and Biogeography
They surveyed 22 lands in the wilderness, looking at the climatic conditions and the abundance of saplings in the flood-affected areas. By comparing this with satellite images of pre-fire tree abundance, the team can measure how forests were successfully recovering from tree damage.
Compared to previous studies from the same regions, the team discovered that forests are recovering more slowly than before if, even 15 years after the fire, researchers surveyed that 80 plots had no new trees. The results were that only half of the land was suitable for recovery, with higher risks and higher rainfall risk than in low rainfall environments.
“This study and others clearly show that the resilience of fires in our forests is significantly reduced between hot and dry conditions,” says Tom Veblen, professor of geography at CU Boulder.
“The big acceptance here is that we can expect the fire to continue to grow in the foreseeable future, and at the same time we see that most of our land has been converted from forest to non-forest.”
Researchers are predicting regions to become grasslands instead, as a result of climate change, the South Rocky Mountains are seeing conditions that are becoming both hot and dry, increasing the frequency of flood fires and reducing the likelihood of recovery from the forest where trees should be rearranged.
In addition to their observations, the team also predicts greenhouse gas emissions based on two scenarios: people have done nothing to address the climate crisis and emissions remain the same; or in a ‘moderate’ scenario, where people start to reduce emissions after 2040.
If people follow the “moderate” path, only 17.5 percent of the land will be suitable for Douglas fir and ponderosa pine by 2051. If the human emissions rate does not change at all, the figure is only 3.3 percent for fir and 3.5 for fir and pine species, respectively, significantly blacker at percent.
The study serves as a memorable reminder of the importance of reducing the effects of climate change and emissions in indigenous deserts. In the short term, Rodman and team hope that identifying areas that have the greatest potential for success when planting seeds will help enterprises focus their resources on ensuring forest regeneration. They stressed that we have not crossed any point of return and that progress towards a more sustainable future will help forestry in its past, present, and future fire efforts.