Why the West is burning

In this slide deck, we examine wildfires, their role in Western ecosystems, and how a century of suppression has led to a dangerous build-up of fuels in many of the region’s forests.

Download Slides: Wildfires in the American West (5038 downloads ) Download Notes: Wildfires in the American West (5494 downloads ) Download Data: Wildfires in the American West (4304 downloads )

Key points

Wildfires are . . .

  • Natural in most Western forests and critical to maintaining ecosystem health
  • Behaving differently today due to the legacy effects of fire suppression and other human activities
  • Growing larger, burning longer, and becoming more intense; climate change will exacerbate these trends
  • Posing increasing risk to homeowners in the wildland-urban interface; threatening some species in forests and woodlands; and leading to increased flooding and soil erosion
  • Costing us more to suppress and consuming much of the Forest Service’s budget
  • Prompting thinning projects to reduce fuels in overgrown forests, but not without controversy
  • Compounded by other stresses on Western forests, such as a changing climate and insect outbreaks

Visualizing environmental trends