Prescribed Fire & Climate Change – Are We Prepared?

Anthropogenic climate change, including connections to wildland fire, is an increasingly prominent topic nationally and in the Southeast. Rising global surface temperatures are already impacting wildfire risk, prescribed fire implementation, hurricane intensity, and many other issues facing natural resource managers in the South. Research shows that these trends are projected to continue. However, many resources and news stories related to wildland fire and climate change are focused on how those issues manifest in the Western United States. Two recently released resources focus specifically on understanding climate change, resiliency, and wildland fire in the Southeast:

  1. Wildland Fire and Climate Change Impacts in the Southern United States, a new fact sheet from the Southern Fire Exchange, covers in detail how rising temperatures and the resulting impacts on drought and rainfall events, hurricanes, and forest pests are affecting wildland fire. The publication also addresses the disproportionate impacts of climate change on already vulnerable human populations.
  2. Thriving on Fire: The Resilient Longleaf Pine, a new publication from America’s Longleaf Restoration Initiative, explains how the longleaf pine is resilient to wildland fire, as compared to other tree species, in the face of climate change. 

As these publications note, it can be very difficult to translate regional climatic changes into local impacts on prescribed fire implementation and wildfire risk. However on a regional scale, prescribed fire is becoming more difficult due to the increasing frequency of conditions unfavorable for burning that result in more narrow burn windows. This greater difficulty in applying prescribed fire, accompanied by increasing droughts, is projected to lead to a rise in regional wildfire activity.

Climate change impacts are often discussed as future events. However those impacts are already taking place on the Southeastern landscape, and are only projected to grow more severe. Natural resource professionals must prepare as soon as possible to address the way these impacts manifest on their local landscapes. This includes asking questions such as:

  • How are the lands I own or manage likely to be impacted by climatic changes?
  • What can I do now to ensure those lands are as resilient as possible?
  • What resources, partnerships, and information will I need to manage those lands both for climate change resilience and other existing objectives? 
  • How can I use prescribed fire and minimize wildfire risk as burn windows continue to narrow?

How are you preparing? Let us know in the comments! 

By: Laurel Kays (lekays@ncsu.edu) and Jennifer Fawcett (jlevans3@ncsu.edu)

Questions? Please contact us!