Finding: Forest fires in Sierra Nevada driven by past land use – not climate

Watts Up With That?

From the University of Arizona and Penn State comes this inconvenient finding.

The low-to-moderate intensity surface fire in this prescribed burn will lower the fuel load in this forest in the Lake Tahoe Basin. CREDIT Alan H. Taylor The low-to-moderate intensity surface fire in this prescribed burn will lower the fuel load in this forest in the Lake Tahoe Basin. CREDIT Alan H. Taylor

Forest fire activity in California’s Sierra Nevada since 1600 has been influenced more by how humans used the land than by climate, according to new research led by University of Arizona and Penn State scientists.

For the years 1600 to 2015, the team found four periods, each lasting at least 55 years, where the frequency and extent of forest fires clearly differed from the time period before or after.

However, the shifts from one fire regime to another did not correspond to changes in temperature or moisture or other climate patterns until temperatures started rising in the 1980s.

“We were expecting to find climatic drivers,” said lead co-author Valerie Trouet, a UA associate professor…

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