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July 21, 2021

High Fires!

An NSF-funded team of scientists from the universities of Montana and Wyoming have analyzed charcoal found in nearby lake sediments to study the history of forest fires in the rocky mountains.

Credit: National Science Foundation

Hi, I'm Mo Barrow with The Discovery Files -- from NSF -- The U.S. National Science Foundation.

What in the world was that? An Elk's Mating call -- known as a "bugle" -- one of the many wonders you can find in the Rocky Mountains.

But Colorado's high-elevation forests are experiencing something not so wonderful.

An NSF-funded team of scientists from the Universities of Montana and Wyoming have analyzed charcoal found in nearby lake sediments to study the history of forest fires in the Rocky Mountains.

The team was alarmed to learn that, since 2000, wildfires are burning nearly twice the amount of acreage in high-elevation forests of the central Rocky Mountains than at any point in the last 2,000 years. These fires have increased dramatically from once every 230 years to once every 120 years.

The researchers also learned that, in 2020, Colorado wildfires burned unusually late in the year and that wildfires alone were responsible for 72% of the total high-elevation forest area burned since 1984. Colorado had three of its largest fires on record in 2020!

Climate change is a principal cause of the increase in these forest fires and the more acreage burned, the less area wildlife have to roam.

Maybe that elk is alerting us that we still have time to put the brakes on climate change by decreasing human activity and more intensive forest management.

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