News Release

Is Climate Change Affecting Western Fires?


LEROY WESTERLING, leroy.westerling at, @leroywesterling
Westerling is co-director of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute at the University of California. He just co-wrote “Climate drives inter-annual variability in probability of high severity fire occurrence in the western United States” for the journal Environmental Research Letters.

Last year he wrote the piece “This year’s wildfires are bad. Climate change will make future ones worse” for the Guardian.

See his recent interview with The Real News, in which he states: “If you’re looking at the most recent decade, it’s an over 1,200 percent increase since the 1970s … in the area burned in federal forests in the western United States. It’s most strongly linked to changes in the time in the spring and warmer temperatures. We have a really diverse set of ecosystems across the western United States, even within forest areas and they have different sensitivities to increasing temperatures and changes in the timing of spring. The places that have shown the largest increases linked to those changes in spring timing and warmer temperatures are places where the forests have historically been pretty cool and wet. The warming that we’ve experienced [has] kicked them up into a different regime where they can burn more often. The dry season in the summer gets longer when you melt the snow out earlier and you have more evaporation driving fuel aridity that can increase fire.”