San Diego Changes in climate will limithumans ability to manage wildland fire and apply prescribed fire across thelandscape, according to the San Diego Declaration on Climate Change and FireManagement, released today by the Association for Fire Ecology, the worldslargest assembly of fire ecologists.
Under future drought and high heat scenarios,the Declaration reads, fires may become larger more quickly and be moredifficult to manage. Fire suppression costs may continue to increase, withdecreasing effectiveness under extreme fire weather and fuel conditions. Extremefire events are likely to occur more frequently.
Association President Robin Wills of Oakland,Calif. said the five-page Declaration is being submitted for delegateconcurrence at the Third International Fire Ecology and Management Congress tobe held 13-17 November 2006, in San Diego, U.S.A..
Weregoing to see more fire, not less, Wills said, and these increases inwildfire occurrence and severity are going to be part of our new reality. We, as a society, must be prepared to cope with these changes.
Abrupt climate change can lead to rapid andcontinuous changes that disrupt natural processes and plant communities,reads the Declaration . Managers are not safe in assuming that tomorrowsclimate will mimic that of the last several decades.
Increased temperatures are projected to leadto broad-scale alteration of storm tracks thereby changing precipitationpatterns. Historical data show that such changes in past millennia were oftenaccompanied by disruption of fire regimes with major migration andreorganization of vegetation at regional and continental scales.
Some believe that the impacts of climatechange may already be emerging as seen in more frequent outbreaks of very largefires, widespread tree die-offs across the southwest United States, expansiveinsect infestations in the Rocky Mountains, and more rapid and earlier meltingof snow packs globally.
Currently, we are observing wildland fireconditions previously considered rare, such as extreme wildfire events (e.g.high heat release and severe impact to ecosystems), lengthened wildfire seasons,and large-scale wildfires in fire-sensitive ecosystems (e.g. tropical rainforests and arid deserts), the Declaration continues. Research indicates that climate change has, in part, caused thesetrends. Therefore, we are deeply concerned that wildfire conditions will onlybecome exacerbated by further climate change.
In the western United States, researchersrecently confirmed an increase in fire season duration with large forest firesstarting both earlier and later in the year than in the recent past. Thesechanges are correlated with earlier spring snowmelt dates, the Declarationreads. The ecological impacts are wide-reaching because of the high severityof these fires burning through heavy fuel loads. With global temperaturesprojected to rise throughout this century, we expect increases in fire seasonlength and fire size.
As temperatures increase, we should expectfire to become a primary agent of vegetation change in many natural ecosystems.As such, we will likely see wholesale conversions of habitats from one type toanother. For example, temperate dryforests could be converted to grasslands or moist tropical forests could beconverted to dry woodlands.
High-severity fires could also eliminateentire forests and then seedling reestablishment could be hindered by a new andunsuitable microclimate. Plant andanimal species already vulnerable due to human activities, would be put atgreater risk of extinction as their traditional habitats become irreversiblymodified by severe fire. Finally, extreme wildfire events and a lengthened fireseason would greatly increase the risk to human lives and infrastructures,particularly within the wildland urban interface, the Declaration concludes.
Wills said, Whats important about theDeclaration is that we need to change our approach to managing wildland fire. Traditional approaches of suppression need to adapt to those changes invegetation and resulting changes in fire regimes. There is a direct relationshipbetween changes in climate and changes in the way fires behave and we need tomake a corresponding change in our fire management.
Fire Congress Chair Melanie Miller of Missoula,Mont., said over 500 papers and 120 posters will be officially presented toaround 3,000 attendees, including 250 papers to be received in 31 specialsessions at the Congress. All of the worlds top fire ecologists aregathering in one place, Miller said. Weexpect this to be the largest gathering of fire professionals in history.
The Fire Congress will consist of lectures,field trips, workshops, posters, and exhibits showcasing new products,technology, and tools on the leading edge of international fire science and firepolicy. The Fire Congresss official website is http://emmps.wsu.edu/firecongress.
The public and reporters are welcome to attendall events, Miller said.
The Association for Fire Ecology is anorganization of professionals dedicated to improving the knowledge and use offire ecology in land management. Utilizing conferences, an on-line journal andselected publications, AFE continues to heighten awareness of the role of firein contemporary ecosystems.
The Nov. 13 17, 2006, Third InternationalFire Ecology and Management Congress will be held at the Town and Country Resortand Convention Center , located at 500 Hotel Circle North; San Diego, CA 92108; Phone: 619-291-7131;Fax: 619-294-5957; www.towncountry.com/ .
Contact AFE Board President Robin Wills at:
Tel: +1-530-898-9826 or 510-817-1432
Contact AFE Fire Congress Chair Melanie Millerat:
Contact AFE Administrative Director Carrie Shawat:
Contact AFE Fire Congress Media Liaison PaulRichards at:
Contact WSU Extension Congress Manager DetlefDecker at: