The Western Forests May Be Going Away

All across the western United States, the forests are burning. In normal times, wildfires can be a good thing, clearing out dead material and making room for new growth.

These are not normal times. The forests are burning, and in some cases they’re not coming back.

We are in the middle of this 30,000-acre, near-treeless hole,” said Craig D. Allen, a research ecologist with the United States Geological Survey. If historical patterns had held, the remaining pines would by now be preparing seeds to drop and start the cycle of regrowth.

“But the mother pines are nowhere in sight. Nature’s script has been disrupted by a series of unusually intense, unusually large fires — a product of many factors that include government firefighting policies, climate change and bad luck.

That means forest recovery can be slow, or worse, said Donald A. Falk, a fire expert at the University of Arizona. “That’s a recovery process that could take centuries — and given where climate is going, it might never recover,” he said.

This wildfire season is smashing records, driving people from their homes and swallowing whole communities. The Valley and Butte fires in California are among the worst ever in state history, between them killing at least 5 people and destroying 1,400 homes.

When you look at the overall numbers for this year to date from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the scope of this year’s wildfire season is staggering.