Study: Wildfires in Oregon's blue mountains to become more frequent, severe due to climate change

November 21, 2019

Under a warming climate, wildfires in Oregon's southern Blue Mountains will become more frequent, more extensive and more severe, according to a new Portland State University-led study.

Researchers from PSU, North Carolina State University, University of New Mexico and the U.S. Forest Service looked at how climate-driven changes in forest dynamics and wildfire activity will affect the landscape through the year 2100. They used a forest landscape model, LANDIS-II, to simulate forest and fire dynamics under current management practices and two projected climate scenarios.

Among the study's findings:Brooke Cassell, the study's lead author and a recent Ph.D. graduate from PSU's Earth, Environment and Society program, said that if these forests become increasingly dominated by only a few conifer species, the landscape may become less resilient to disturbances, such as wildfire, insects and diseases, and would provide less variety of habitat for plants and animals.

Cassell said that the team's findings suggest that forest managers should consider projected climate changes and increasing wildfire size, frequency and severity on future forest composition when planning long-term forest management strategies.

The team also suggests that in light of the projected expansion of grand fir, managers should continue to reduce fuel continuity through accelerated rates of thinning and prescribed burning to help reduce the extent and severity of future fires.
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The study's findings were published in the journal Ecosphere. The research team also included Melissa Lucash, a research assistant professor of geography in PSU's College of Liberal Arts and Sciences; Robert Scheller from North Carolina State University; Matthew Hurteau from the University of New Mexico; and E. Louise Loudermilk from the U.S. Forest Service.

Portland State University

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