Newswise — A Baylor University expert is available to journalists for interviews about how climate change in the desert southwest will decrease the likelihood of widespread and intense wildfires, such as the one in Arizona, over the next 50 years.

Dr. Joseph White, professor of biology at Baylor who is an expert in fire management, says recent research and predictive models show that climate change in the desert southwest is drying out the landscape, changing pine forests to uplands without trees and grasses which is fuel for wildfires. With the drying out of grasslands, White says, the likelihood of widespread and intense wildfires will decrease over the next 50 years, as wildfires naturally occur and use up the current fuel base.

“The idea is that as climate change dries out these types of environments, they are less capable of supporting fuels, like grasses, that can burn. There may be repeated fires in that area, but over the next 50 years, the intensity and the area that the fires will burn will decrease,” White said. “The collective thought is that climate change will lead to more fires as things get hotter, but if there isn’t the fuel around to burn, then fire becomes less frequent. In the case of the Arizona wildfire, the fire is burning in a habitat that is highly likely to burn, but it’s right next to a habitat that does not support the fuel to burn. As the fire’s fuel gets phased out over the next 50 years, the prevalence of these types of intense, widespread fires in the desert southwest will decrease.”

As a self-described life-long student of the natural world, White has authored more than 50 journal publications on topics including fire risk in conservation lands, watershed and reservoir nutrient dynamics, and woody plant-water relationships. He is considered an expert in the ecosystem’s response to fire and climate change, and has extensively researched the use of prescribed fire to reduce the risk of a catastrophic fire for habitat. He is a member of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society for Photogrammetry and Remote Sensing, American Geophysical Union, Ecological Society of America and the American Institute of Biological Science.

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