Future Wildfire in the South will be Driven by Society as well as Climate Change
Humans ignite more than 80 percent of wildfires in the southeastern 13 states of the United States. Projections of the future for the region, emerging from the Forest Service's 2010 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment, indicate that human populations may grow by nearly 50 percent between 2006 and 2060, while forested area may decline. Forests will be under increasing pressure to support economic and recreational activities that sometimes spark fires; however, increased wealth in the region allows for greater economic resources to help reduce the occurrence and spread of fires that are ignited. In this study, Forest Service scientists used county-level data to create models of lightning fires and of human-caused fires. Projections of human society and climate were obtained from the 2010 RPA Assessment and applied to the statistical models to see how wildfire might change as a result of changes in society and climate. To understand how wildfire might behave in the future, analysts used simulation that accounted for uncertainties on how society will unfold and how unsure they were about the statistical model parameters. Results were presented at the state, ecoregion, and south-wide levels for both lighting and human-ignited wildfires. At the south-wide level, the scientists determined that the area burned by lightning fires would increase by 34 percent by the 2050s, while the area burned by human-caused fires would decline by 6 percent. However, results on these trends differed by state, ecoregion, and large bands of uncertainty were revealed. This study will inform new analyses on how wildfire changes could lead to changes in air quality in the region, an issue of critical importance to public health efforts.
|Projecting wildfire area burned in the south-eastern United States, 2011-60||(publication)|
Forest Service Partners