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Fires more frequent but not more severe

March 1, 2012 by  

REDDING, Calif., March 1 (UPI) — Wildfires in California have grown in size over time but haven’t necessarily grown in severity or in negative impacts on the ecosystem, scientists say.

Researchers from the U.S. Forest Service and the University of California, Davis, assessed the size, severity and frequency of wildfires in four national forests — Klamath, Mendocino, Shasta-Trinity and Six Rivers — in northwestern California from 1910 to 2008 and their effects on the ecosystem.

Fire severity is measured by its impact on resources such as watersheds, wildlife habitat, soils, vegetation and forest products, they said.

“High” severity patches within fires are areas where greater than 95 percent of the forest canopy has been killed.

The study found despite an increase in total acres burned there was no corresponding trend in the proportion of fires burning at high severity, a USFS release said Thursday.

The findings suggest fires burning at less than high severity could be useful in attaining ecological and management goals, researchers said.

“This study has some very important implications for fire and forest management policies,” USFS geographer Carl Skinner said. “Our results support the idea that wildfires could be managed for ecological benefit in this bioregion.”

Spencer Cameron

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