Megafires: The New Normal In The Southwest
- Hide captionBill Armstrong, fire manager for the Santa Fe National Forest in New Mexico, is a firm believer in thinning forests and returning them to a natural burn cycle to avoid megafires.David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionThe Forest Service is thinning and treating the forest around the Sierra de los Pinos neighborhood in the Jemez Mountains, west of Los Alamos, N.M. The goal is to reduce the threat posed by future megafires.David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionThe Forest Service is also trying to get people who live in the Jemez Mountains area to thin and maintain the forests around their homes.David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionContract foresters work on a thinning operation in Los Griegos Peak, on U.S. Forest Service land in the Jemez Mountains.David Gilkey/NPR
- David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionA thinned and treated forest in the Sangre de Cristo mountains, near the Santa Fe watershed. To effectively protect against wildfire threats, the Forest Service needs to burn tree litter and other detritus that remain on the forest floor.David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionBill Armstrong of the U.S. Forest Service opens the security gate at the Santa Fe watershed, in New Mexico's Sangre de Cristo mountains.David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionArmstrong stands in front of a Ponderosa pine, locally known as a yellow belly pine.David Gilkey/NPR
- David Gilkey/NPR
- Hide captionA view of the Valles Caldera. The valley served as a high-mountain pasture for ranchers for years. In the distance you can see the Santa Fe National Forest, which burned during the 2011 Las Conchas fire.David Gilkey/NPR
Millions of acres of forest in the Southwest are overgrown — and ripe to ignite as climate change intensifies drought and heat. Selective thinning and other efforts aim to reduce the risk of catastrophic fires, but those efforts may not be enough to overcome ever-bigger, ever-hotter fires.
August 24, 2012 A panorama of a forest in Arizona compares forest lands that have been trimmed and thinned with untreated tree stands. Untreated stands are more vulnerable to bigger fires.
August 24, 2012 Climate change is exaggerating the normal swings in weather. For the American Southwest, that means more intense waves of heat, drought and fire that could wipe out trees that have stood for centuries. It's already revamping the ecology of the landscape.
August 23, 2012 Huge wildfires are burning in the West — setting new records for damage this summer. These megafires are burning bigger and hotter than ever before. Scientists say climate change and a century-long policy of fire prevention — which inadvertently turned forests into giant tinderboxes — are to blame.
August 23, 2012 For the past century, the Forest Service has been sending photographers out to the same 13 points in Bitterroot National Forest in Montana every decade or so. The resulting photo series shows just how dynamic our forests really are.