Climate change is transforming Western forests. And that could have big consequences far beyond wildfires.
From her family’s summer cabin north of Walsenburg, Camille Stevens-Rumann could see the glow of the Spring Creek Fire on the ridge to the south in the summer of 2018. “It was pretty spectacular, my 4-year-old was excited,” she said
This past June, Stevens-Rumann walked a burnt slope near the town of La Veta, a piece of the more than 100,000 acres ravaged by the fire that raged for more than two months. No tree survived on this hill, a vista of scarred black pillars that stretched in all directions.
Stevens-Rumann, a 33-year-old assistant forestry professor at Colorado State University, was there to measure and mark what comes next. In all likelihood, the ponderosa pine forest that had been there would not return.
Aspen and scrub oak have already sprouted, but all the pine trees and their cones were destroyed. No pine saplings poke through the charred soil.
Across the Rockies and even into the Sierra Nevada and the Pacific Northwest’s Cascades, forests are changing or simply vanishing. Wildfire has played a big role. Insect infestations have also had a hand, as has drought.
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