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Future changes in fire weather, spring droughts, and false springs across U.S. National Forests and Grasslands

Author(s): Sebastian Martinuzzi, Andrew J. Allstadt, Anna M. Pidgeon, Curtis H. Flather, William Matt Jolly, Volker C. Radeloff
Year Published: 2019

Public lands provide many ecosystem services and support diverse plant and animal communities. In order to provide these benefits in the future, land managers and policy makers need information about future climate change and its potential effects. In particular, weather extremes are key drivers of wildfires, droughts, and false springs, which in turn can have large impacts on ecosystems. However, information on future changes in weather extremes on public lands is lacking. Our goal was to compare historical (1950‐2005) and projected mid‐century (2041-2070) changes in weather extremes (fire weather, spring droughts, and false springs) on public lands. This case study looked at the lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service across the conterminous United States including 501 ranger district units. We analyzed downscaled projections of daily records from 19 Coupled Model Intercomparison Project 5 General Circulation Models for two climate scenarios, with either medium‐low or high CO2‐equivalent concentration (RCPs 4.5 and 8.5). For each ranger district, we estimated: (i) fire potential, using the Keetch‐Byram Drought Index; (ii) frequency of spring droughts, using the Standardized Precipitation Index; and (iii) frequency of false springs, using the extended Spring Indices. We found that future climates could substantially alter weather conditions across Forest Service lands. Under the two climate scenarios, increases in wildfire potential, spring droughts, and false springs were projected in 32%–72%, 28%–29%, and 13%–16% of all ranger districts, respectively. Moreover, a substantial number of ranger districts (17%‐30%), especially in the Southwestern, Pacific Southwest, and Rocky Mountain regions, were projected to see increases in more than one type of weather extreme, which may require special management attention. We suggest that future changes in weather extremes could threaten the ability of public lands to provide ecosystem services and ecological benefits to society. Overall, our results highlight the value of spatially‐explicit weather projections to assess future changes in key weather extremes for land managers and policy makers.

Citation: Martinuzzi, Sebastián; Allstadt, Andrew J.; Pidgeon, Anna M.; Flather, Curtis H.; Jolly, W. Matt; Radeloff, Volker C. 2019. Future changes in fire weather, spring droughts, and false springs across U.S. National Forests and Grasslands. Ecological Applications 29(5):e01904.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Weather
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 19880
FRAMES RCS number: 57905
Record updated: Aug 7, 2019