Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Study Shows Wildfires Occurring At Higher Elevations

Jul 27, 2015

A new study shows wildfires are increasingly occurring at higher elevations in the Sierra Nevada. As Amy Quinton reports from Sacramento, researchers say climate change and some forest management practices may be driving the change.

Scientists say in the early 20th century, fires rarely burned above 8,000 feet in the Sierra. But in the past three decades, several fires have burned at or above that level every year. The study suggests warming temperatures associated with climate change may be increasing tree density and the amount of fuel.

Schwartz: “Increased forest growth at high elevations is unmistakable.”

Mark Schwartz is with UC Davis and the lead author of the study.

Schwartz: “That climate is changing and warming and giving a longer growing season for those trees is also unmistakable and so is the pattern that we’ve suppressed fires and reduced the number of them that could have moved up in the past to reduce those fuels, so it’s probably a combination of both those things.”

Schwartz says the findings may not change how forest fires are fought but it could change how forests are restored after fires.