Recent Trends in Wildfire and the Impacts on Sustainability of Western Forests
Wildfire has shaped the forest ecosystems of the western U.S. over millennia, but fire regimes have been highly variable through time. Recent changes in suppression costs, losses, and area burned have heightened awareness about fire and its potential impacts on society. National monitoring data shows fire regimes have changed substantially in recent decades. The ten-year average area burned in the United States has doubled over the last 20 years, from 3.3 million acres per year to 6.6 million acres per year. In large portions of interior western forests, pre-settlement low-severity frequent fire regimes have been replaced by mixed and high-severity fire regimes. The wildland urban interface in the western U.S. has continued to expand in recent decades, exacerbating suppression costs and losses. The ten-year average for federal suppression costs more than tripled from 1997 to 2017, now costing an average of more than 1.6 billion dollars per year. These trends have implications for sustainability of western forests, using the Montreal Process Criteria and Indicators, as the ongoing changes in wildfire regimes affects biological diversity, the productive capacity and health of ecosystems, conservation of soil and water, carbon sequestration, and socioeconomic uses of forests. Presented by David Peterson, USDA Forest Service, at the 2018 SAF National Convention, Portland, OR