Wildfires are consuming more of Earth’s timber-producing forests than ever


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At least one-third of the forests on the planet are cut down for use in the timber industry, worth $1.5 trillion annually, according to The Conversation. The trees are used in paper manufacturing and timber milling, among other applications, but they are increasingly threatened by wildfires.

New research by scientists from Australia and the United Kingdom has found that, from 2001 to 2021, severe wildfires destroyed forests used for timber of an area equal to the size of Great Britain. A “severe” wildfire is one that reaches the tops of trees and consumes the forest canopy.

“Wildfires are a natural ecological process in many ecosystems. However, forest wildfires and associated forest loss have been increasing throughout the twenty-first century,” the authors wrote in the study. “Fire season length and fire extent are expected to increase significantly by 2100 because of climate change, placing forests under increasing threat of high-severity burning. Given the long-term nature of timber production, typically on 40–100+ year cutting cycles, future crops of timber trees will face a very different climate as they mature towards harvest.”

The last decade has seen an increase in the amount of forest used for timber production burned annually in severe wildfires, reported The Conversation. Brazil, Canada, the western United States, Siberia and Australia have borne the brunt of this disturbing trend.

“Timber demand is expected to almost triple by 2050. Supplying demand is clearly going to be challenging. Our research highlights the need to urgently adopt new management strategies and emerging technologies to combat the increasing threat of wildfires,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

The research team combined maps of severe wildfires and logging activity to figure out how much forest used for timber was destroyed by wildfires during the current century. As many as 61.8 million acres were severely burned, the scientists said. The extent of fire has increased dramatically in the past ten years, the average tripling since 2015.

Canada, the U.S. and Russia had the most “absolute” losses of timber-producing forest caused by wildfires, but Portugal and Australia lost the biggest proportion of total forestry land.

Climate change is a main cause of fire behavior and fire weather, as it can cause warmer temperatures and reductions in rainfall.

But the scientists said the reason so much timber forest was being lost wasn’t clear, especially the severe increase of the past decade.

One potential explanation, according to a previous study, is that logged forests become more flammable. And forests that have been purposefully thinned are at greater risk of “high-severity” wildfires.

If timber becomes harder to get and wood production more costly, governments and industry could start looking to log in other areas like tropical forests that have a high level of conservation and biodiversity benefit.

“Whatever the reason, it is clear these fires in wood-production forests will have profound impacts on global timber supplies and all the industries associated with them. This is a huge problem for society and the environment, because timber demand is expected to triple by 2050, in part to facilitate the transition away from carbon-intensive cement in construction,” the scientists wrote in The Conversation.

This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on EcoWatch and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

Like MediaFeed's content? Be sure to follow us.