Bartlein acknowledges that his study was not designed to provide insights specific to a particular location or forest type. But when the West is examined as a whole, he believes the research shows that fire suppression has pushed the region toward "a much more flammable condition."
Whether he is right or not, one aspect of the research is undisputed: It shows a clear relationship between climate and fire – namely, warmer and drier conditions bring more fire over the long haul.
As Veblen noted: "The most important message is that with warming temperatures we should expect increased wildfire activity in many ecosystems in the West.
"But as a society we're not really dealing with that problem."
DailyClimate.org is a nonprofit news service covering climate change. Contact editor Douglas Fischer at dfischer [at] DailyClimate.org.