Invasive Grasses Promote Wildfire


New study: Continent-wide analysis finds invasive grasses increase fire risk about as much as climate change does.

Invasive cheatgrass, reviled by Western ranchers and conservationists, has long since earned a reputation as a firestarter, making wildfires worse and more common. Same with climate change: It's well understood that climate warming is making western wildfires worse. But it’s not just cheatgrass anymore, or just a warming West: a new analysis finds at least seven other non-native grasses can increase wildfire risk in places across the country, some doubling or even tripling the likelihood of fires in grass-invaded areas.

“There’s bufflegrass in the desert southwest and Japanese stiltgrass in eastern temperate deciduous forests, medusahead in the Great Basin… and the spread of these invasive grasses makes fire more likely across the United States,” said Chelsea Nagy of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Earth Lab and CIRES. When flammable invasive grasses are present, they can impact wildfire about as much as climate warming does, said Nagy, who is co-author of the new work, published today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

She and several colleagues, led by University of Massachusetts Amherst postdoctoral researcher Emily Fusco, conducted what they believe is a first-of-a-kind analysis, combining several big datasets into what they’re calling a “pyrogeographic” study.

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