Fire suppression + climate change = fewer large trees in Yosemite NP

Wawona "Drive-through" tree which was 227 feet tall, and had a circumference of 90 feet. It fell in 1969 after living for about 2,300 years. Image via Alameda Info

A combination of warmer temperatures and fewer fires has resulted in a 24% reduction in the number of large-diameter trees in Yosemite National Park. The findings come from a study by the U.S. Geological Survey and the University of Washington that compared large-diameter tree densities from 1932-1936 to records from 1988-1999.

Here is an excerpt from a brief article about the study from Science Daily:

“Although this study did not investigate the causes of decline, climate change is a likely contributor to these events and should be taken into consideration,” said USGS scientist emeritus Jan van Wagtendonk. “Warmer conditions increase the length of the summer dry season and decrease the snowpack that provides much of the water for the growing season. A longer summer dry season can also reduce tree growth and vigor, and can reduce trees’ ability to resist insects and pathogens.”

Scientists also found a shift to fire-intolerant trees in some forests that had not experienced fires for nearly a century. In these areas, trees changed from fire-tolerant ponderosa pines to fire-intolerant white fir and incense cedar. In burned areas, however, pines remained dominant.

“We should be aware that more frequent and severe wildfires are possible in Yosemite because of the recent shift to fire-intolerant trees in unburned areas and warmer climates bring drier conditions,” said van Wagtendonk.

It will cost you $31.50 to read the study

But, if you want to read the full results of the study, conducted by U.S. government employees using tax dollars from U.S. citizens, you can’t. Unless you pay Science Direct $31.50. The authors, J. A. Lutz, J.W. van Wagtendonk, and J.F. Franklin in the future should publish their government-funded study results openly on the Internet, available to everyone at no cost.

You, as a taxpayer, already paid for this research. But government employees have struck a deal with Science Direct where the government pays them to publish taxpayer-funded work, then to read it, you also have to also pay Science Direct. It’s a pretty sweet deal for Science Direct, but not so much for taxpayers.

We ranted about this issue previously on August 2 in our “Public access to taxpayer-funded wildfire research” article.

Check out the Alliance for Taxpayer Access, which is dedicated to seeing that:

“..research funded by public dollars is made available to the American public, for free, online, as soon as possible”.

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