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View: Abstract

Climate change and wilderness fire regimes

McKenzie, D., and J.S. Littell. 2011. Climate change and wilderness fire regimes. International Journal of Wilderness 17(1): 22-31.


A major challenge to maintaining the integrity of wilderness areas in a warming world will be adapting to changing disturbance regimes. Projections from both simulation models and empirical studies suggest that fire extent and probably fire severity will increase under the warmer drier conditions predicted by most global climate models. Projections are limited, however, not only simply because burnable area is finite, but also because water-balance dynamics may decouple existing relationships between drought and area burned across many landscapes, particularly forested wilderness areas. Disturbance interactions, and interactions between global warming and human-caused stresses such as air pollution, may compromise the ability of wilderness areas to respond to climate change. Adaptive strategies must be creative and flexible, especially considering the limited acceptability of active manipulations, such as assisted migration and fuel treatments, in protected areas.