News 88.9 KNPR
Classical 89.7 KCNV

member station


Research Shows Dire Future For Southwest Forests



A new study shows that even if the world cut its emissions the continued drought in the Southwest will lead to the death all needleleaf trees by the end of the century.

Scientists have reached a grim conclusion about pines in southwest forests of the four corner states: Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. 

According to research published in Nature Climate Change, the impact of climate change and prolonged drought will mean an almost certain death for the forests in the next 100 years. 

Sara Rauscher is one of the researchers. She told KNPR's State of Nevada the scientists used several different kinds of models and scenarios, including if the limits on emissions laid out during the climate change talks in Paris late last year were put into place immediately.  

"And even with those sort of reduced CO2 emissions, or those reduced scenarios, we still see die off occurring by the end of this century," Rauscher said. "It's just delayed by a decade or so."

The study suggests that 72 percent of the region's needlelead, evergreen forests will die by 2050, reaching nearly 100 percent mortality of Southwest forests by 2100. 

Support comes from

"If you drive through the Southwest right now, you can actually see some of this mortality happening," she said, "You see a lot of red trees for example as you drive through Colorado."

She said there is a chance for trees in some isolated pockets to continue to thrive because of the micro-climate they are in, for instance those in higher elevations where the heat is not as severe or on the north side of a mountain where the air is a little cooler. 

The scientists did not consider forest fires and insect plagues that could make their projections even worse. They also don't know if the trees could end up adapting to the increased water stress. 

The loss of trees in the Southwest could be devastating for many reasons. Rauscher pointed out that the trees take in carbon dioxide which keeps it out of the atmosphere and when they die they release that carbon leading to further warming.  

Plus, the region, including Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado and Texas, is home to 10 national parks which pump millions of dollars into local economies.  


Sara Rauscher, University of Delaware

You won’t find a paywall here. Come as often as you like — we’re not counting. You’ve found a like-minded tribe that cherishes what a free press stands for.  If you can spend another couple of minutes making a pledge of as little as $5, you’ll feel like a superhero defending democracy for less than the cost of a month of Netflix.

More Stories