Fire, Climate Change, and Ecosystem and Community Resilience
Climate change is driving extreme weather patterns and, in California, these patterns mean drier soils and increased fuel loads making us more vulnerable to fire. A fire season has long characterized our region, but the warmer, drier, and longer dry season is increasing the number and intensity of wildfires. We’ve seen a doubling of extreme fire weather conditions and a five-fold increase in wildfire severity over the past four decades. Wildfires decimate forests, wildlife, and human-made structures and have even wider-reaching impacts, with smoke spanning hundreds of miles and reducing air and water quality to levels that lead to health, community, and economic issues.
Despite decades of observations and considerable advances in model-based projections, a cohesive picture of how California’s climate will respond to warming and how this will influence wildfire is yet to emerge.
The UC Davis Institute of the Environment is working with researchers to better understand fire behavior and how our natural lands may or may not be positioned for resilience. We’re facilitating and supporting fire-based research -- working with foundations, nonprofits, and state and federal groups to protect natural resources and prepare vulnerable communities for climate change. The research produced at UC Davis will go on to advise policies at local and state levels, shape trainings and fire workforce development, and inform sustainable land-use planning and management. The Institute of the Environment works in partnership with the UC Davis Wildfires Research Working Group, as well as wildfire, smoke, and air quality experts across campus. Additional resources from the working group are available here.
A Climate-Smart Workforce
We’re also working with educational and environmental groups to produce summits informing a climate-smart workforce focused on sustainable forest and fire management. These summits aim to protect the most vulnerable communities — those in rural areas and those who disproportionately experience the impacts of environmental issues and climate change.
Workforce development plays an important role in putting diversity, equity, and inclusion principles into action. By partnering with organizations to train students who come from communities most at risk of fire damage, we are able to share best practices with groups who may live in remote, underdeveloped areas. When students who participate in these initiatives return to their communities, they will have a better understanding of which strategies will work best for their area, and they will have their community’s trust to effectively implement new practices.