“Shifting opportunities for prescribed fire in the Southeast in a changing climate” with Adam Terando, Research Ecologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and Southeast Climate Adaptation Science Center
Adam will review the results of a collaborative project with Dr. John Kupfer of the University of South Carolina and Kevin Hiers of Tall Timbers Reserach station. Wildfires are a focus for many studies seeking to define risks associated with climate change, but the total area burned annually in the U.S. by prescribed fires vastly exceeds that burned by wildfires. This stems from the fact that prescribed fire is a critical tool for managing wildfire risks and helping to accomplish ecological objectives. But prior to its application specific meteorological criteria must be met, which suggests that changes in climate could affect the frequency and seasonality of opportunities for managers to engage in this practice. Here, we evaluate the potential impacts of projected climate changes on prescribed fire activity in the southeastern United States, where more than half of all nationwide prescribed burning takes place. We do so by applying a set of burn window criteria (suitable weather conditions within which burning may occur) to projections from an ensemble of Global Climate Models under greenhouse gas emission scenarios reflecting a continuation of current emissions rates (RCP 8.5) and mid-century stabilization followed by emission reductions (RCP 4.5).
Regionally, the percentage of suitable winter burn days changes little by the end of the 21st century compared to historical conditions. During the summer burn season, however, the percentage of suitable days is projected to drop substantially, especially under the high emissions scenario, but with considerable regional variation. Throughout much of the region, the result would be seasonal shifts in burn window opportunities from summer to cool season months, making recent trends towards application of fire in the putative evolutionary lightning season harder to achieve. In some portions of the region, however, fire managers could be presented with additional opportunities in the fall and winter seasons for accomplishing acreage goals.
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