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Yellowstone May Lose Many Of Its Forests By Mid-Century, Study Says

Dead trees in Yellowstone National Park.
Rick Egan, Salt Lake Tribune
Dead trees in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone National Park may lose many of its forests by mid-century due to severe wildfires and climate change, according to a new study published in the peer-reviewed journal Ecological Monographs.  

“That’s pretty terrifying,” said Winslow Hansen, co-author of the study, ecologist, and postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University.

According to Hansen, seedlings are struggling to grow back after bigger and more severe wildfires sweep across the West. This means much of the nation’s oldest national park could become a giant grassland in 30 years.

“There’s a lot of wildlife that depend on the forest ecosystem,” Hansen said. “We depend on the forest ecosystem for carbon storage and for recreation. The future we’re looking at – if this is to play out – is substantially different.”

Yellowstone is, on average, two degrees warmer than it was 60 years ago and large, severe wildfires are no longer a rarity in much of the region.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

Nate Hegyi is the Utah reporter for the Mountain West News Bureau, based at KUER. He covers federal land management agencies, indigenous issues, and the environment. Before arriving in Salt Lake City, Nate worked at Yellowstone Public Radio, Montana Public Radio, and was an intern with NPR's Morning Edition. He received a master's in journalism from the University of Montana.
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.