The core problem is too much fuel — trees — resulting from a lack of more frequent, less devastating surface fires. The ponderosa pine forests of Arizona's Mogollon Rim, which form the southern limit of the Colorado Plateau, are the poster child for this phenomenon, Wally Covington, a regents' professor in forest ecology and executive director of The Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University, told LiveScience.
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But the real culprits behind the devastation increasingly wrought by unnaturally devastating wildfires in western North America are changes to forests, aggravated by the effects of global warming, including increasingly severe droughts, like the one Arizona is currently experiencing, said an expert in forest restoration.
The Mogollun Rim is where the worst of the current fires are burning, as well as the two largest fires in the state's history.
Throughout nearly all of their 70-million-year evolutionary history, the ponderosa forests were burned by surface fires every two to five years. These killed seedlings, but left larger trees intact, Covington said.
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