Forest re-growth
(Photo credit: National Park Service / Powell)

If you hike into the Cascade Mountains of the Pacific Northwest, you’ll find yourself in the midst of dense conifer forests.

At mid-to-high elevations, winters are wet. And in summer, snow from higher up the mountain melts and waters the trees.

But as the climate warms, some of these areas are getting drier, and the forests are becoming more vulnerable to frequent and severe wildfires.

Sebastian Busby is a research analyst and PhD student at Portland State University. He says that in the burned areas he’s studied, some important tree species like sub-alpine fir and mountain hemlock are struggling to grow back.

“After these big severe wildfires, it created sort of this, like, hellscape of sorts,” he says, “where it’s extremely dry, there’s no shade, there’s no organic soil on the ground. And those species don’t really like those conditions.”

The trees that are coming back are more drought-tolerant species like lodgepole pine, and they’re spaced farther apart.

Busby says this could reduce timber harvests and diminish the mountains’ unique beauty. But it is also how the forest will adapt to climate change.

“The spark of hope is that it’s already organizing itself to be more resilient to the future wildfire patterns we expect,” he says.

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Reporting credit: Stephanie Manuzak/ChavoBart Digital Media.

Topics: Species & Ecosystems