Increasing numbers of wildfires risk wood shortage
November 20, 2023 | 1:17 pm CST

Wildfire threatens industries such as timber milling and paper manufacturing, and the threat is far greater than most people realize.

Photo By Matt Howard/Upsplash

High-severity wildfires across the globe are threatening timber production, according to a recently published study.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK, and The Australian National University, combined global maps of logging activity and stand-replacing wildfires to assess how much timber-producing forest has been lost to wildfire this century, and quantify spatio-temporal changes in annual area lost.

One-third of global forest, the researchers say, is harvested for timber, generating about $1.5 trillion annually. Researchers Christopher G. Bousfield and David P. Edwards of University of Cambridge, and David. B. Lindenmayer of The Australian National University, found that between 2001 and 2021, 18.5–24.7 million hectares of timber-producing forest—an area the size of Great Britain—experienced stand-replacing wildfires, with extensive burning in the western USA and Canada, Siberian Russia, Brazil and Australia. 

The study, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, found that annual burned area increased significantly throughout the twenty-first century, pointing to substantial wildfire-driven timber losses under increasingly severe climate change. To meet future timber demand, producers must adopt new management strategies and emerging technologies to combat the increasing threat of wildfires.

"Wildfire threatens industries such as timber milling and paper manufacturing, and the threat is far greater than most people realize," the researchers wrote.

a–f, Hotspots of severe burning in timber-producing forests (a,b), total area (c,d) and proportion (e,f) of forestry land severely burned nationally between 2001 and 2021, using the map of global forest management (a,c,e) by Lesiv et al.13 and the map of forest loss due to forestry (b,d,f) by Curtis et al.6. In a and b, areas of warmer red represent increasing burn, blue represents areas where logging occurs but wildfires did not or were limited (<1,000 ha per cell) and grey represents areas where logging is not prevalent. The western USA and Canada, northeastern Russia, southeastern Australia and Brazil suffered particularly high losses of timber-producing forest to wildfire, while much of Central and northern Europe, and parts of South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, experienced limited wildfire-induced losses.


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Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).