Climate change impacts forests after wildfires

Posted at 4:56 PM, Mar 22, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-22 22:04:35-04

Every year, the Western U.S., including Colorado, loses millions of acres to wildfires. It can take decades for the forests to recover.

Denver 7’s Kristen Skovira explains that as the climate continues to change, the way these forests bounce-back is also changing.

Dense, alpine forests are well-adapted to even the most severe fires. But now, researchers at CU Boulder say, as the climate warms and droughts become more frequent, it's the forest recovery time they're worried about.

“Conditions right after the fire -- are really critical for the next generation of these trees,” said CU Researcher Brian Harvey.

Harvey spends a lot of time looking at trees. He and his team have been to nearly 200 sub-alpine forests in places like Yellowstone and Glacier National Park.

Harvey says, if a large wildfire is followed up by warm and dry conditions, instead of cool and wet weather, little trees have a hard time taking root and the forest becomes patchy at best.

"So if we think about a large tree like this, that's mature and possibly decades old, this tree might be able to withstand the warmer, dryer conditions in ways that a little tiny seedling wouldn't be able to,” he said.

And that's concerning news for Colorado. And could be a sign of things to come.

“Most of the area in Colorado is a little warmer and drier already,” Harvey said.