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Undesirable outcomes in seasonally dry forests

Author(s): Scott L. Stephens, Anthony L. Westerling, Matthew D. Hurteau, M. Zachariah Perry, Courtney Schultz, Sally Thompson
Year Published: 2021

We appreciate Hutto’s call to promote positive ecological outcomes by recognizing diverse forest fire ecologies. Nevertheless, we continue to argue that restoration treatments are appropriate in the approximately 17 million ha of forest in the western US that historically burned every 40 years or less (Rollins 2009). Given ongoing climate change and increases in forest fuels resulting from fire suppression and exclusion, forest flammability is increasing along with the areal extent burned by large wildfires (Abatzoglou and Williams 2016). Hutto’s argument – that we should focus on solving climate change rather than attempting to build climate resilience in seasonally dry forests – presents a false choice between climate‐change mitigation and adaptation. To protect ecosystems, valuable ecosystem services, and human communities in a rapidly changing world, scientists and resource managers must pursue climate adaptation where it is possible, while aggressively pursuing mitigation options.

Unfortunately, Hutto’s argument that restoration within mixed‐conifer forests is inappropriate is based on some flawed research. Levine et al. (2017) tested the accuracy of five plotless General Land Office (GLO) density estimators and found the one developed by Williams and Baker (2011) was consistently biased toward overestimating forest density. This bias toward high density has been used to infer that historical fires were more severe in seasonally dry forests. Although Levine et al. (2017, 2019) provided all GLO estimator code and data on publicly accessible websites, Williams and Baker (2011) offered neither, and their findings were derived from research that cannot be replicated.

Citation: Stephens SL, Westerling AL, Hurteau MD, Peery MZ, Schultz CA, and Thompson S. 2021. Undesirable outcomes in seasonally dry forests. Frontiers in Ecology 19(2), 87-88. https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2309
Topic(s): Post-fire Management, Post-fire Rehabilitation, Recovery after fire, Resilience
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 22872
Record updated: Apr 6, 2021