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Fire scientists fight over what Western forests should look likeOver the past five years, Williams and Baker compiled thousands of hand-written descriptions and combined them with tree-ring data from the lines the surveyors walked. What they found surprised them. In each of their study areas -- mixed conifer and ponderosa forests in northern Arizona, Colorado's Front Range and eastern Oregon -- dense thickets of spindly trees and severe crown fires were common even before European settlement. In fact, the two scientists argue that the severity of many recent megafires, like Arizona's 2002 Rodeo-Chediski fire, which burned 190,000 acres, is actually pretty normal.
If that sounds counterintuitive, it is. Conventional wildfire wisdom is generally the opposite. Many scientists say that dry Western forests were once open and park-like, with large, widely spaced trees and little undergrowth. Now, however, due to fire suppression and logging practices, they've become overgrown with small trees and shrubs. The result is that frequent low-severity fires have been replaced by a new era of megafires that are hotter and more severe than ever before.
That's true in some parts of the West, say Baker and Williams, a recent Ph.D. student, but not everywhere; many dry forests throughout the region historically were more dense and prone to severe fires. They also disagree with the idea that thinning and prescribed burns can prevent such fires. That kind of treatment, applied in the wrong places, is not only misguided, they say, but could do more harm than good.
http://www.hcn.org/issues/44.16/fire-sc ... -look-like