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Global Warming

Global Warming

Wildfires in the West are becoming hotter and burning longer as a result of global warming. Half of the worst wildfire seasons on record in the United States occurred in the past decade, and millions of acres were torched each year. Experts say that in addition to a century of fire suppression, warmer temperatures, earlier springs, and smaller snowpacks are making our western forests increasingly flammable. A rise of less than two degrees from 1970 to 2003 led to nearly four times the number of fires. One of the most serious fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center, burned through more than a quarter of a million acres in California in 2003, destroying 2,400 homes. These flames are so hot that even some fire-acclimated trees, such as the ponderosa pine, are killed. According to a recent study in Science, some of the largest fires are whipping through lodgepole pine and spruce–fir forests in the Northern Rockies. Tom Swetnam, a tree ring researcher with the University of Arizona-Tucson, says the blazes are so vast and powerful that they are remaking some western forest ecosystems. “We may be converting these forests to grasslands or shrublands, and they may only turn back to forests very slowly, if at all.”—Susan Cosier

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