Wildfire trends across the western US: Forest fires have increased in size, severity, and frequency across western forests

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Wildfire across the western US has increased in size, frequency, and severity since the 1950s. These changes are closely linked with increases in temperature and an increased frequency and intensity of drought. Historically, frequent low to moderate-severity fires dominated the fire regime in many western forests, maintaining low-density forests with larger trees. A history of fire exclusion, logging activity, grazing, and invasive species has led to an uncharacteristic build-up of forest fuels in many areas, increasing the susceptibility to large-scale, high-severity wildfire. The US has a history of fire suppression efforts that has exacerbated the problem by increasing the density of trees and fuel availability, and reduced the overall area burned by wildfires to levels that are below those that occurred before the beginning of the 20th century.

The western US is also experiencing larger, more severe fires that are often near communities. In recent decades, the build-up of forest fuels, a warmer and drier climate, and expansion of the wildland-urban interface (WUI) into forested areas has changed western landscapes and increased wildfire hazard. Federal policy and management have primarily focused on fire suppression and more recently on fuels reduction on some federal lands. Forest restoration and fuels reduction projects have had positive ecological impacts; however, the pace and scale of forest treatments is not keeping up with heightened wildfire activity across the West.

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