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Researchers paint bleak future for Arizona forests

PHOENIX — An Arizona State University climatologist said
it’s possible that the state is in the early stages of mega drought that could last for a century.

Randy Cerveny said most droughts in Southwest history have spanned 20-25 years, but the conditions for worse are in place.

“The last time we saw that was in the 1500s. There’s no guarantee we’re not heading into that situation. If it is, that could spell disaster for the southwest,” he said.

A book compiled by climate experts, “Assessment of Climate Change in the Southwest United States,” said Aspen trees are dying en masse and that more than 10 percent of the Southwest’s forests have died off since 1997 because of bark beetles.

Add to that snowfall melting off earlier than past years and wildfire seasons will only get worse.

“The critical thing we’ve seen over the past 15 years is the drought. That has driven the changes we’re seeing in the biosphere. Particularly in the forests of the southwest,” Cerveny said.

Some scientists believe Arizona’s high country may not be home to Ponderosa pines in the distant future and that instead the area could resemble a high-elevation savanna.