Editorial. Introduction to the regional assessments: Climate change, wildfire, and forest ecosystem services in the USA
Fires have influenced and shaped vegetation ever since the climate evolved to provide both ignition sources and oxygen (Bowman et al., 2009). Fire has been one of the most frequent and impactful disturbances to ecosystems globally, and thus one of the major regulators of forest composition, function and dynamics (Spurr and Barnes, 1973 and Bond and Keeley, 2005). Any consideration of forests under a changing climate regime, therefore, must be viewed through a prism of fire interactions. Notwithstanding the importance of understanding how fire interacts with climate and imparts forest change, fire has been inadequately addressed in past assessments of climate impacts (National Assessment Synthesis Team, 2001). The recent interest in fire and climate has been fueled by growing scientific consensus that, across much of the US, wildfires are likely to become larger, more intense, and increasingly difficult to contain with climate change (Brown et al., 2004, Westerling and Bryant, 2008, Krawchuk et al., 2009, Littell et al., 2009, Littell et al., 2010, National Research Council, 2011, Westerling et al., 2011a and Westerling et al., 2011b). The increase in intense fires is a phenomenon that is evident throughout the world (Lohman et al., 2007 and Attiwill and Binkley, 2013); but, is particularly apparent in the western US, where an increase in large fires appeared markedly in the mid 1980s coincident with increased spring and summer temperatures and earlier snow melt (Westerling et al., 2006). The last two decades have continued to see record wildfire seasons and escalating fire suppression costs (data from National Interagency Fire Center). Society’s ability to respond to climate change, mitigate negative consequences when possible, and adapt to those impacts that we are unable or unwilling to change will depend on a better understanding of the complex relationships between fire, vegetation and climate.