Year of Publication
Natural disturbances (wildfires, droughts, beetle outbreaks) shaped temperate forests for millennia, including dry forests of the western USA. Could they now best restore and adapt dry forests to climate change while protecting nearby communities? Mechanical fuel-reduction treatments (e.g., thinning) reduce landscape heterogeneity and appear ineffective since <1% of the treated area encounters fire each year and fires are still increasing. We propose and analyze a nature-based solution (NbS), using natural disturbances, to see whether it is feasible, how long it might take, and whether it could more effectively restore and adapt dry forests to climate change. We compared 2010–2019 disturbance rates on ~16 million ha of federal dry forests with historical data. We evaluated how much adaptation is achieved by comparing how trees are selected by treatments and disturbances. We found an NbS, which works with natural disturbances and prioritizes community protection, is feasible in western USA dry forests since disturbances are occurring mostly within historical rates. Natural disturbances, unlike mechanical treatments, select survivors that are more likely to be genetically adapted to survive future disturbances and climate change, while perpetuating ecosystem services. Natural disturbances also could ecologically restore forest heterogeneity, better maintain carbon storage, and reduce management needs. A fully developed disturbance-based NbS could more effectively adapt dry forests to climate change within ~30–40 years if active management is reprioritized to protect the built environment and communities near public forests.
Baker, W.L.; Hanson, C.T.; DellaSala, D.A. Harnessing Natural Disturbances: A Nature-Based Solution for Restoring and Adapting Dry Forests in the Western USA to Climate Change. Fire 2023, 6, 428. https://doi.org/10.3390/fire6110428