Large Wildfires Predicted For Second Half Of Century In Grand Teton National Park

Jan 31, 2020

Credit NPS

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy calls for more prescribed burns in the future. But according to a recent study, that may not do much in mitigating wildfires after all. The study looks specifically at Grand Teton National Park and predicts widespread wildfires there for the second half of the century—even if there are managed wildfires.

The study published in Ecological Applications found that forecasted extreme weather conditions mean fires can start in places not usually thought of as having enough fuel. Winslow Hansen, currently a Columbia University postdoctoral researcher led the study at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He said to think of the fireplace you have at home.

"You let it burn until all the wood is consumed, and then you go back the next night and try to start a fire again, without adding more wood, you're not really going to have that nice of a fire," said Hansen. "But we also know that with extreme weather conditions, really young forests can burn even with not a lot of fuel."

Hansen said this means no matter how many managed or prescribed burns there are, wildfires will happen and they will be large and become more common. The simulation found a loss of about 35 percent of forested areas in the park. But Hansen also said there are positive benefits from managed wildfire use.

"We had more intermediate sized brands in the landscape. And this creates landscape heterogeneity. And the reason that's important is because the forests are more heterogeneous, that can really help us reduce the risk of other disturbances, like bark beetle outbreaks," he said.

Hansen said people can help now by taking fire wise actions like clearing defensible spaces around their homes.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Kamila Kudelska, at kkudelsk@uwyo.edu.