Wildfire management won’t stop big fires in GTNP, study finds

JACKSON, Wyo. — A new study published in the Ecological Society of America journal “Ecological Applications” suggests wildfire management as we know it may not actually make a difference in wildfire suppression in Grand Teton National Park.

Fire management includes letting lightning fires run their course when fire risk is relatively low. It also includes prescribed burns to eliminate potential fuels.

But the study suggests that wildfire management efforts may be futile in keeping up with a dramatically warming climate.

The study found “little difference between management scenarios in the number, size, or severity of fires during the last three decades. With 21st-century warming, fire activity increased rapidly, particularly after 2050, and followed nearly identical trajectories in both management scenarios.”

In other words: wildfires in GTNP after 2050 will be too large and too frequent for management to make much of a difference.

Winslow Hansen, a postdoctoral researcher and the study’s leader, told Wyoming Public Media that wildfires will get bigger and more common no matter how many prescribed burns there are. The study’s simulation predicted a loss of about 35% of forested areas in GTNP.

This allows fire managers to “continue to have flexibility to strategically suppress subalpine fires without concern for long-term consequence,” the study reports.

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