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How will future climate change impact prescribed fire across the contiguous United States?

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As of 2023, the use of prescribed fire to manage ecosystems accounts for more than 50% of area burned annually across the United States. Prescribed fire is carried out when meteorological conditions, including temperature, humidity, and wind speed are appropriate for its safe and effective application. However, changes in these meteorological variables associated with future climate change may impact future opportunities to conduct prescribed fire. In this study, we combine climate projections with information on prescribed burning windows for ecoregions across the contiguous United States (CONUS) to compute the number of days when meteorological conditions allow for the safe and effective application of prescribed fire under present-day (2006–2015) and future climate (2051–2060) conditions. The resulting projections, which cover 57% of all vegetated area across the CONUS, indicate fewer days with conditions suitable for prescribed burning across ecoregions of the eastern United States due to rising maximum daily temperatures, but opportunities increase in the northern and northwestern United States, driven primarily by rising minimum temperatures and declining wind speeds.

Alex Jonko, Julia Oliveto, Teresa Beaty, Adam Atchley, Mike A. Battaglia, Matthew B. Dickinson, Michael R. Gallagher, Ash Gilbert, Daniel Godwin, John A. Kupfer, J. Kevin Hiers, Chad Hoffman, Malcolm North, Joseph Restaino, Carolyn Sieg & Nicholas Skowronski

Jonko, A., Oliveto, J., Beaty, T. et al. How will future climate change impact prescribed fire across the contiguous United States?. npj Clim Atmos Sci 7, 96 (2024).

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