“Wildfires in the western United States are increasingly destroying forests by turning them into grasslands and shrublands that exacerbate soil erosion and minimize carbon capture, according to new research.
The growing severity of wildfires has been largely — and improperly — overlooked but is potentially more significant than the rising number of acres burned each year, Forest Service researcher Sean Parks says in a study published in Geophysical Research Letters. Climate change is helping to increase fire severity, the study finds.
“If we're trying to quantify fire impacts, then I don't think area burned is the best metric, because it basically discounts or ignores the fact that fire does burn with a lot of heterogeneity,” Parks said in an interview. “Some area burns at low severity, which is oftentimes considered good for an ecosystem or restorative.”
The study focuses on “high-severity fire,” which is defined as wildfire that kills more than 95% of trees and is uniquely destructive because it often prevents forest regrowth.”