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  1. Researchers are increasingly examining patterns and drivers of postfire forest recovery amid growing concern that climate change and intensifying fires will trigger ecosystem transformations. Diminished seed availability and postfire drought have emerged as key constraints on conifer recruitment. However, the spatial and temporal extent to which recurring modes of climatic variability shape patterns of postfire recovery remain largely unexplored. Here, we identify a north–south dipole in annual climatic moisture deficit anomalies across the Interior West of the US and characterize its influence on forest recovery from fire. We use annually resolved establishment models from dendrochronological records to correlate this climatic dipole with short-term postfire juvenile recruitment. We also examine longer-term recovery trajectories using Forest Inventory and Analysis data from 989 burned plots. We show that annual postfire ponderosa pine recruitment probabilities in the northern Rocky Mountains (NR) and the southwestern US (SW) track the strength of the dipole, while declining overall due to increasing aridity. This indicates that divergent recovery trajectories may be triggered concurrently across large spatial scales: favorable conditions in the SW can correspond to drought in the NR that inhibits ponderosa pine establishment, and vice versa. The imprint of this climatic dipole is manifest for years postfire,more »as evidenced by dampened long-term likelihoods of juvenile ponderosa pine presence in areas that experienced postfire drought. These findings underscore the importance of climatic variability at multiple spatiotemporal scales in driving cross-regional patterns of forest recovery and have implications for understanding ecosystem transformations and species range dynamics under global change.« less
  2. Large-scale global reforestation goals have been proposed to help mitigate climate change and provide other ecosystem services. To explore reforestation potential in the United States, we used GIS analyses, surveys of nursery managers and foresters, and literature synthesis to assess the opportunities and challenges associated with meeting proposed reforestation goals. We considered a scenario where 26 million hectares (64 million acres) of natural and agricultural lands are reforested by 2040 with 30 billion trees at an estimated cost of $33 ($24–$53) billion USD. Cost per hectare will vary by region, site conditions, and other factors. This scenario would require increasing the number of tree seedlings produced each year by 1.7 billion, a 2.3-fold increase over current nursery production levels. Additional investment (not included in the reforestation cost estimate) will be needed to expand capacity for seed collection, seedling production, workforce development, and improvements in pre- and post-planting practices. Achieving this scenario will require public support for investing in these activities and incentives for landowners.
  3. Abstract Fire is an integral component of ecosystems globally and a tool that humans have harnessed for millennia. Altered fire regimes are a fundamental cause and consequence of global change, impacting people and the biophysical systems on which they depend. As part of the newly emerging Anthropocene, marked by human-caused climate change and radical changes to ecosystems, fire danger is increasing, and fires are having increasingly devastating impacts on human health, infrastructure, and ecosystem services. Increasing fire danger is a vexing problem that requires deep transdisciplinary, trans-sector, and inclusive partnerships to address. Here, we outline barriers and opportunities in the next generation of fire science and provide guidance for investment in future research. We synthesize insights needed to better address the long-standing challenges of innovation across disciplines to (i) promote coordinated research efforts; (ii) embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation; (iii) promote exploration of fundamental science; (iv) capitalize on the “firehose” of data for societal benefit; and (v) integrate human and natural systems into models across multiple scales. Fire science is thus at a critical transitional moment. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrativemore »and predictive approaches that support pathways towards mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit. Only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.« less
    Free, publicly-accessible full text available August 4, 2023
  4. Abstract Changing disturbance regimes and climate can overcome forest ecosystem resilience. Following high-severity fire, forest recovery may be compromised by lack of tree seed sources, warmer and drier postfire climate, or short-interval reburning. A potential outcome of the loss of resilience is the conversion of the prefire forest to a different forest type or nonforest vegetation. Conversion implies major, extensive, and enduring changes in dominant species, life forms, or functions, with impacts on ecosystem services. In the present article, we synthesize a growing body of evidence of fire-driven conversion and our understanding of its causes across western North America. We assess our capacity to predict conversion and highlight important uncertainties. Increasing forest vulnerability to changing fire activity and climate compels shifts in management approaches, and we propose key themes for applied research coproduced by scientists and managers to support decision-making in an era when the prefire forest may not return.
  5. Climate change is increasing fire activity in the western United States, which has the potential to accelerate climate-induced shifts in vegetation communities. Wildfire can catalyze vegetation change by killing adult trees that could otherwise persist in climate conditions no longer suitable for seedling establishment and survival. Recently documented declines in postfire conifer recruitment in the western United States may be an example of this phenomenon. However, the role of annual climate variation and its interaction with long-term climate trends in driving these changes is poorly resolved. Here we examine the relationship between annual climate and postfire tree regeneration of two dominant, low-elevation conifers (ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir) using annually resolved establishment dates from 2,935 destructively sampled trees from 33 wildfires across four regions in the western United States. We show that regeneration had a nonlinear response to annual climate conditions, with distinct thresholds for recruitment based on vapor pressure deficit, soil moisture, and maximum surface temperature. At dry sites across our study region, seasonal to annual climate conditions over the past 20 years have crossed these thresholds, such that conditions have become increasingly unsuitable for regeneration. High fire severity and low seed availability further reduced the probability of postfire regeneration.more »Together, our results demonstrate that climate change combined with high severity fire is leading to increasingly fewer opportunities for seedlings to establish after wildfires and may lead to ecosystem transitions in low-elevation ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests across the western United States.

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