A drone shot of the Deschutes National Forest with a view of the Three Sisters mountain range.
Oregon Forests Overhead view of Deschutes National Forest. © Jimmy Michaels

Stories in Oregon

Oregon’s Forests in the Face of Climate Change

Our changing climate will affect how forests recover from wildfire

While a changing climate is playing a role in fueling high-intensity wildfires across the west, recent studies by TNC forest ecologist Dr. Kerry Kemp suggest that it is also impacting the ability of forests to recover after those wildfires, especially at lower elevations or in drier forest types.

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When forests experience large and severe burns that leave few trees alive, the forest takes longer to naturally recover. To make matters worse, newly established tree seedlings may have trouble germinating and surviving in climate conditions that are different now than when the forest was originally established. As the climate continues to become warmer and drier, our forests will be dealt a double blow: longer periods of drought that raise the probability of large, high severity fires that leave few seed trees behind—and climate conditions in which the new seedlings simply cannot establish and grow.

Living With Fire As the climate changes, the western United States is likely to see longer, hotter, dryer summers. And with that, comes wildfire.

In some western U.S. forests, Dr. Kemp and her colleagues have started to observe significantly fewer trees regenerating after recent wildfires where average climate conditions have become warmer and drier. This is especially true in the areas on the border between dense forest and shrublands or areas with less trees. In these places, shifts may already be underway as a result of climate change, and that change is being expedited by wildfires.

Will Oregon’s burned forests look different in the future as the result of climate change? The answer is likely yes, but it’s complicated.

Forest Ecologist at The Nature Conservancy in Oregon

Will Oregon’s burned forests look different in the future as the result of climate change? The answer is likely yes, but it’s complicated. In some areas, forests may eventually transition to become less dense forests. Other areas may no longer be forested. On a positive note, where trees are replaced by grasses or shrubs in burned areas, this creates unique and valuable habitat that supports a suite of other species, such as pollinators, elk and migratory birds.