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California Wildfires Occurring At Higher Elevations


A new study shows wildfires are increasingly occurring at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada. Researchers say climate change and some forest management practices may be driving the change.

In the early 20th century, fires rarely burned above 8,000 feet in the Sierra. But in the past three decades, several fires have burned at or above that level every year.

The study suggests warming temperatures associated with climate change may be increasing tree density and the amount of fuel.

“Increased forest growth at high elevations is unmistakable.” says Mark Schwartz, with UC Davis and the lead author of the study.

“That climate is changing and warming and giving a longer growing season for those trees is also unmistakable. So is the pattern that we’ve suppressed fires and reduced the number of them that could have moved up in the past to reduce those fuels," he says.

Schwartz says it's probably both of those factors. He says the findings may not change how forest fires are fought but it could change how forests are restored after fires. 

The study was published in the journal Ecosphere.

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