Ponderosa Forests struggling to survive through Southwest drought

Monsoons play a key role in keeping these forests alive.
Published: Jun. 9, 2023 at 10:54 PM MST
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TUCSON, Ariz. (13 News) - A new study from the University of Arizona researchers shows that Ponderosa forests are struggling to survive through the Southwest megadrought.

And as this drought continues, monsoons play a key role in keeping these forests alive.

“Even forests that don’t receive a lot of precipitation from the monsoon they were doing, they were existing, they were fine, not too stressed,” said Dr. Brandon Strange, lead author on this new study for the University of Arizona. “But now that we’ve got into this drought, that is the most severe since 800 CE, it’s been estimated. We’re seeing that without the monsoon these forests are really doing poorly.”

Strange said these forests are no stranger to drought conditions. But it has reached a point where it is becoming harder for them to cope.

“They are still sucking a lot of water more than they can afford to lose because the atmosphere is so dry and so hot,” said Strange. “So it’s so hot and dry that despite their best efforts, they are not able to pinch that straw enough to limit how much water they’re losing, that will cause them to dry out and potentially die off.”

These forests rely on a good monsoon to survive. If they are faced with one bad year or several consecutive ones, it could have adverse effects.

“If we get more frequent bad monsoons or as I like to call them non-soons, where they just don’t show up that will really have an adverse effect on the forest around here,” said Strange

Strange added that if the drought does continue the way it is, monsoons may soon not be enough to keep these forests alive.

“The monsoons are currently keeping them at an okay level, but if the drought continues for a long time, or if it intensifies, they could be kind of in the same boat as other forests where they start drying up and potentially heading towards mortality and dying off,” said Strange.

And without these forests around, It can have a negative impact on the environment.

“If they’re not around to take that carbon dioxide up, our atmospheric CO2 is going to go up and up, which is just going to make it hotter and hotter on the on the surface,” said Strange.

Strange said the university is still researching the threshold for how much longer these forests can withstand. He reiterates that the severe drought conditions will continue to push these forests in the wrong direction.

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