Are size and severity of wildfires and insect outbreaks increasing in high-elevation forests in the American Southwest Are changes in disturbance regimes attributable to natural variation, past forest management, or climate change? These are questions scientists with the Forest Service's Rocky Mountain Research Station and the University of Arizona set to find out by establishing the Pinaleño Demography Project. The primary goal of the project is to determine how forest vegetation, wildfire, insect outbreaks, humans, and climate interact by using tree-ring analysis to provide a historical context for modern wildfire events. The scientists found that historically, fires were often quite large, burning 50 percent or more of the landscape in single years. Prior to 1880, about 70 percent of the landscape burned every 20 years, or more frequently, but70 percent of the landscape has not burned at all since 1880. Modern wildfires are more severe than historical fires, compared to pre-1880 wildfires the proportion of high-severity area in burned areas is four times greater. Modern changes in fire spread and severity are attributed to accumulation of fine- and large-sized fuels over the landscape. The project area is located in the Pinaleño Mountains in southeast Arizona. The substantial elevational gradient and southern location of the Pinaleño Mountains make them an ideal location for studying disturbance interactions, serving as a "canary in the coal mine" for the effects of changing climate on the extensive conifer forests further north.