Discovery Files

A future with fewer forests

NSF-funded researchers say forest resilience declines in face of wildfires, climate change

A b-roll package is available. Contact Dena Headlee at

As wildfires continue to rage in California, a future with fewer forests is very real, according to findings from a new study on the resilience of Rocky Mountain forests. A team led by Colorado State University and the University of Idaho, and funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF), analyzed data from nearly 1,500 sites spanning five states. The researchers measured more than 63,000 seedlings after 52 wildfires that burned over the past three decades.

A warming climate makes forests potentially less resilient after wildfires, the team said. In one-third of the areas studied, researchers found no seedlings growing, suggesting landscapes could be forever changed. Is there anything that can be done?

The team says they will continue to work with land managers to promote new tree growth and to forecast changes from forests to grassland and shrub lands.