RESEARCH & PUBLICATIONS



SageWest update to the AFWA Sagebrush Executive Oversight Committee

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On 12 September 2017, Tony Wasley, Co-Chairman of SageWest and Director of the Nevada Department of Wildlife, and Hannah Ryan, Sagebrush Communications Specialist for Intermountain West Joint Venture, present about SageWest to the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies (AFWA) Sagebrush Executive Oversight Committee.

Long-term impacts of wildfire on fuel loads, vegetation, and potential fire behavior in sagebrush

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This study showed higher levels of resilience to fire than is typically discussed in the sagebrush steppe, in part because the studied ecosystems were in good condition before the fire, but also because the longer post-fire monitoring time (17 years) may be more appropriate to capture patterns of succession in these ecosystems. 

Wildland fire smoke health effects on wildland firefighters and the public

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This work combines a comprehensive literature review with extensive smoke exposure concentration data for wildland firefighters to estimate health risks specific to wildland fire smoke. First, we conducted a literature review to identify smoke components that present the highest health hazard potential, the mechanisms of their toxicity, and reviewed epidemiological studies to identify the current gaps in knowledge about the health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposure for firefighters and the public. Next, we examined wildland firefighter exposures, explored predictors of smoke exposures to determine factors influencing smoke exposure for wildland firefighters and estimated exposure to air pollutants using carbon monoxide (CO) as an indicator pollutant. Lastly, we estimated disease risk in wildland firefighters for exposure to particulate matter from smoke using firefighter specific breathing rates with existing exposure response relationship information for risk of lung cancer, ischemic heart disease and cardiovascular disease from cigarette smoking, which produces particulate matter with a similar size range. 

Interagency prescribed fire planning and implementation procedures guide

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The Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide establishes national interagency standards for the planning and implementation of prescribed fire. These standards:

  • Describe what is minimally acceptable for prescribed fire planning and implementation.
  • Provide consistent interagency guidance, common terms and definitions, and standardized procedures.
  • Make clear that firefighter and public safety is the first priority.
  • Ensure that risk management is incorporated into all prescribed fire planning and implementation.
  • Support safe, carefully planned, and cost-efficient prescribed fire operations.
  • Support use of prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risk to communities, municipal watersheds and other values, and to benefit, protect, maintain, sustain, and enhance natural and cultural resources.
  • Support use of prescribed fire to restore natural ecological processes and functions, and to achieve land-management objectives.

Prescribed fire complexity rating system guide

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This guide establishes interagency prescribed fire complexity analysis standards. The analysis provides a focused, subjective assessment by qualified prescribed fire burn bosses that is evaluated and approved by Agency Administrators, and provides insight and improves understanding of the significant risks associated with prescribed fire. The analysis:

  • Provides decision support that highlights the risk to values associated with prescribed fire implementation.
  • Identifies the technical difficulty (complexity) of managing the risk to values.
  • Informs the complexity rating determination of high, moderate, or low for a prescribed fire.
  • Identifies prescribed fire plan elements that may pose special problems or concerns.

Climate change and wildfire effects in aridland riparian ecosystems: an examination of current and future conditions

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In this report, we review the ecohydrology of southwestern streams and share results from our study sites along the Middle Rio Grande to describe effects of hydrological changes, wildfire, and invasions on plant communities and riparian-nesting birds. We also examine climate change projections and output from population models to gauge the future of aridland riparian ecosystems in an increasingly arid Southwest.

Assessment of aspen ecosystem vulnerability to climate change for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forests, Utah

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In this report, literature-based information and expert elicitation are used to define (a) components of sensitivity and exposure to climate change and (b) the capacity of these ecosystems to adapt to expected changes. Aspen ecosystems benefit from fire and quickly reproduce. Yet, aspen trees are susceptible to drought and heat that is projected to become more frequent and intense in the future. Some aspen-associated plant and animal species may benefit from the expected changes in disturbance regimes and stand structure, while others may experience population reductions or stress as a result of drought and heat. Overall, vulnerability is defined as moderate because although persistence of aspen ecosystems is likely, a dynamic spatial and temporal response to climate change is expected.

Using object-based image analysis to conduct high-resolution conifer extraction at regional spatial scales

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For this mapping process across the entire mapping extent, four sets of products are available, including (1) a shapefile representing accuracy results linked to mapping subunits; (2) binary rasters representing conifer presence or absence at a 1 × 1 m resolution; (3) a 30 × 30 m resolution raster representing percentages of conifer canopy cover within each cell from 0 to 100; and (4) 1 × 1 m resolution canopy cover classification rasters derived from a 50-m-radius moving window analysis. The latter two products can be reclassified in a geographic information system (GIS) into user-specified bins to meet different objectives, which include approximations for phases of encroachment. These products complement, and in some cases improve upon, existing conifer maps in the Western United States, and will help facilitate sage-grouse habitat management and sagebrush ecosystem restoration.

Greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) nesting and brood-rearing microhabitat in Nevada and California— Spatial variation in selection and survival patterns

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This report evaluated the nesting and brood-rearing microhabitat factors that influence selection and survival patterns in the Great Basin using a large dataset of microhabitat characteristics from study areas spanning northern Nevada and a portion of northeastern California from 2009 to 2016. The spatial and temporal coverage of the dataset provided a powerful opportunity to evaluate microhabitat factors important to sage-grouse reproduction, while also considering habitat variation associated with different climatic conditions and areas affected by wildfire. The summary statistics for numerous microhabitat factors, and the strength of their association with sage-grouse habitat selection and survival, are provided in this report to support decisions by land managers, policy-makers, and others with the best-available science in a timely manner.

Hierarchical population monitoring of greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in Nevada and California—Identifying populations for management at the appropriate spatial scale

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This report identified leks and larger scale populations in immediate need of management, based on the occurrence of two criteria: (1) crossing of a destabilizing threshold designed to identify significant rates of population decline at a particular nested scale; and (2) crossing of decoupling thresholds designed to identify rates of population decline at smaller scales that decouple from rates of population change at a larger spatial scale. This approach establishes how declines affected by local disturbances can be separated from those operating at larger scales (for example, broad-scale wildfire and region-wide drought). Given the threshold output from our analysis, this adaptive management framework can be implemented readily and annually to facilitate responsive and effective actions for sage-grouse populations in the Great Basin. The rules of the framework can also be modified to identify populations responding positively to management action or demonstrating strong resilience to disturbance. Similar hierarchical approaches might be beneficial for other species occupying landscapes with heterogeneous disturbance and climatic regimes.

Next-generation restoration for sage-grouse: a framework for visualizing local conifer cuts within a landscape context

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In this paper, optimization models successfully identified areas with low conifer canopy cover, high resilience and resistance to wildfire and annual grass invasion, and high bird abundance to enhance sage-grouse habitat. The inclusion of mesic resources resulted in further prioritization of areas that were closer to such resources, but also identified potential pathways that connected breeding habitats to the late brood-rearing habitats associated with mesic areas. Areas identified by optimization models were largely consistent with and overlapped ongoing conifer removal efforts in the Warner Mountains of south-central Oregon. Land ownership of preferential areas selected by models varied with priority goals and followed general ownership patterns of the region, with public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management and private lands being selected the most. The increased availability of landscape-level datasets and assessment tools in sagebrush ecosystems can reduce the time and cost of both planning and implementation of habitat projects involving conifer removal. Most importantly, incorporating these new datasets and tools can supplement expert-based knowledge to maximize benefits to sagebrush and sage-grouse conservation.

Critique of the historical-fire-regime concept in conservation

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In North America, decisions about how and when to apply prescribed fire are typically based on the historical-fire-regime concept (HFRC), which holds that replicating the pattern of fires ignited by lightning or preindustrial humans best promotes native species in fire-prone regions. This study found that the practice of inferring historical fire regimes for entire regions or ecosystems often entails substantial uncertainty and can yield equivocal results; ecological outcomes of fire suppression are complex and may not equate to degradation, depending on the ecosystem and context; and habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and other modern factors can interact with fire to produce novel and in some cases negative ecological outcomes. Although the HFRC is a valuable starting point, it should not be viewed as the sole basis for developing prescribed fire programs. Rather, fire prescriptions should also account for other specific, measurable ecological parameters on a case-by-case basis. 

Preparing a community wildfire protection plan: a guide

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In 2004, the Communities Committee of the Seventh American Forest Congress, Society of American Foresters, National Association of Counties, and the National Association of State Foresters sponsored and developed a handbook entitled Preparing a Community Wildfire Protection Plan. (Communities Committee of the Seventh American Forest Congress; Society of American Foresters; National Association of Counties; National Association of State Foresters, 2004) This guide is intended to supplement that handbook, with special considerations for local fire service leaders in communities identified as at-risk of wildfire. While adjacency to public lands (forests, brushlands and grasslands) can impact wildfire risk, there are ways to impact and reduce wildfire risk from within the community as well. This includes a focus on local codes and ordinances, home ignition zones, defensible space, ignition-resistant construction and design standards, as well as hazardous fuels reduction in parks, common-owned areas, and open spaces within the local jurisdiction. 

Fire severity impacts winter snowpack

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Fire is a strong driver of changes in montane forest structure in California’s Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountain ranges, which provide much of the snowpack and associated water storage for the state of California. A recent study by Stevens presented one of the first direct investigations in California of how fire can influence snowpack depth.

Defining wildland firefighter safety and survival zone separation distances

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The significant variables for the fatal injury model were fire shelter use, slope steepness and flame height. The separation distances needed to ensure no more than a 1 or 5% probability of fatal injury, without the use of a fire shelter, for slopes less than 25% were 20 to 50 m for flame heights less than 10 m, and 1 to 4 times the flame height for flames taller than 10 m. The non-fatal injury model significant variables were fire shelter use, vehicle use and fuel type. At the 1 and 5% probability thresholds for a non-fatal injury, without the use of a fire shelter, the separation distances were 1 to 2, 6 to 7, and 12 to 16 times greater than the current safety zone guideline (i.e. 4 times the flame height) for timber, brush and grass fuel types respectively.

Computational study of the interactions of three adjacent burning shrubs subjected to wind

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The burnout time for upstream shrubs increased with an increase in shrub separation distance for all shrub sizes and wind speeds considered. The burnout time for the downstream shrub was found to decrease with an increase in the separation distance, reach a minimum, and then increase with an increase in separation distance. The trends observed in burnout times for downstream shrub were attributed to the balance between heat feedback into the downstream shrub from the flames in upstream shrubs and availability of sufficient oxygen for combustion to take place.

Fuel characteristics, temporal dynamics, and fire behavior of masticated mixed-conifer fuel beds

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This study found that:

  • Few changes in most of the measured masticated fuel bed properties were detected over the 10 years represented in the sample. This indicates that in dry environments, it may take at least 10 years for ecological processes to change fuel characteristics enough for adverse fire effects to be mitigated.
  • Burning masticated fuel beds in a laboratory revealed that there is a great deal of heat that is pulsed into the soil that could cause major mortality to belowground systems. This is especially true in high loading fuel beds with duff layers present.
  • All masticated fuel beds dried to equilibrium in less than seven days, indication that these quickly drying fuels can be readily susceptible to smoldering combustion after 5-7 days of drying.
  • Existing fuel models (including 11, SB1, SB2 and two existing custom fuel models) were good at representing fire behavior, indicating that there is no need to develop new, custom fuel models for masticated fuel beds. 

Do fuel reduction treatments cause beetle mortality or resilience?

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This study examined bark beetle mortality for two-years after fuel reduction treatment in mid-elevation mixed conifer forests at the University of California Blodgett Research Forest. As part of the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, the experimental treatments included prescribed fire (fire), mastication, the combination of the two, and a control.

Influence of climate and environment on post-fire recovery of mountain big sagebrush

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This study investigated the relative importance of site productivity and seasonal climate in explaining the variance in recovery time for 36 fires, comprising a fire chrono-sequence (from 1971 to 2007) for the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. A. t. vaseyana recovery was positively related to precipitation in the cool season immediately following fire, likely because deep soil-water recharge that persists throughout the growing season enhances first-year seedling survival. Percentage sand fraction positively correlated with recovery rate yet negatively correlated with live cover in unburnt stands. Our data support the hypothesis that post-fire recovery rate of A. t. vaseyana depends on the climatically controlled ephemerality of the regeneration niche, as is likely true for many arid-land shrub species.

Restoring whitebark pine ecosystems in the face of climate change

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In this report, guidelines are presented for restoring whitebark pine under future climates using the rangewide restoration strategy structure. The information to create the guidelines came from two sources: (1) a comprehensive review of the literature and (2) a modeling experiment that simulated various climate change, management, and fire exclusion scenarios. The general guidelines presented here are to be used with the rangewide strategy to address climate change impacts for planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating fine-scale restoration activities for whitebark pine by public land management agencies.

Removal of perennial herbaceous species affects response of cold desert scrublands to fire

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Results show that loss of perennial herbaceous species, which can result from inappropriate livestock grazing, and loss of shrubs, which often results from fire, interact to affect key functional groups. The implications are that ecosystem resilience to disturbance in Cold Desert shrublands decreases when competition from perennial native grasses and forbs for available resources no longer prevents dominance by A. tridentata and other shrubs and/ or annual invasive grasses. Managing livestock grazing to maintain or increase perennial herbaceous species, especially deep-rooted grasses, which contribute to resilience along elevation gradients, can help prevent threshold crossings to undesirable states and retain critical ecosystem services following disturbances such as wildfire.

Post-fire vegetation response at the woodland-shrubland interface is mediated by the pre-fire community

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Among sites with low-to-moderate tree cover, burning largely eliminated differences in understory composition, suggesting that biotic legacies were sufficient to result in predictable trajectories. In contrast, sites with high pre-fire tree cover transitioned into an annual forb-dominated community with sparse vegetation cover, suggesting that the loss of the understory community initiated unpredictable and divergent post-fire trajectories. Because plant communities were still changing four years after fire, it is unclear whether the alternate trajectories in sites with high tree cover will result in the formation of alternate states, or whether community composition will eventually converge with other sites at the same elevation. Results indicate that careful evaluation of site characteristics can be used to predict treatment outcomes at the woodland-shrubland interface, and to guide the appropriate use of prescribed fire or other management practices.

Population genetic structure of Bromus tectorum in the mountains of western North America

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The wide geographic distribution of several common haplotypes almost completely restricted to montane habitats suggests that dominant lineages in montane populations may possess adaptive syndromes that are preserved through reduced outcrossing rates or negative selection on outcrossed progeny. However, conclusive evidence of such local adaptation requires reciprocal seeding experiments and further characterization of adaptive traits and breeding system characteristics. Other lineages have likely risen to dominance in montane populations through selectively neutral processes.

Managing climate change risks in rangeland systems

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A risk framework for adaptation could integrate key vulnerabilities, risk, and hazards, and facilitate development of adaptation actions that address the entire socio-ecological system. Adaptation plans will need to be developed and implemented with recognition of future uncertainty that necessitates an iterative implementation process as new experience and information accumulate. Developing the skills to manage with uncertainty may be a singularly important strategy that landowners, managers, and scientists require to develop adaptive capacity.

Adapt to more wildfire in western North American forests as climate changes

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Wildfires across western North America have increased in number and size over the past three decades, and this trend will continue in response to further warming. As a consequence, the wildland–urban interface is projected to experience substantially higher risk of climate-driven fires in the coming decades. Key aspects of an adaptive resilience approach are (i) recognizing that fuels reduction cannot alter regional wildfire trends; (ii) targeting fuels reduction to increase adaptation by some ecosystems and residential communities to more frequent fire; (iii) actively managing more wild and prescribed fires with a range of severities; and (iv) incentivizing and planning residential development to withstand inevitable wildfire. These strategies represent a shift in policy and management from restoring ecosystems based on historical baselines to adapting to changing fire regimes and from unsustainable defense of the wildland–urban interface to developing fire-adapted communities. 

Telling fire's story through narrative and art - Fire Science Digest

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Using unconventional means—and with partial funding by the Joint Fire Science Program—creative individuals have spawned some colorful and heartfelt messages that convey insightful information about wildland fire, climate, and other elements of nature to an increasingly receptive public. Recent narrative works by well-known authors, such as Stephen J. Pyne, and creative art pieces by well-established and emerging artists have helped depict fire in a new light to audiences that scientists may rarely reach. This issue of Fire Science Digest describes recent books funded by the Joint Fire Science Program and other sources that focus on fire’s ecological role in various regions of the U.S. and on associated fire management issues and events.

Towards improving wildland firefighter situational awareness through daily fire behaviour risk assessments in the US Northern Rockies and Northern Great Basin

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This paper presents a simple framework for relating fire danger indices to observed categorical wildland fire behaviour. Ordinal logistic regressions are used to model the probabilities of five distinct fire behaviour categories that are then combined with a safety-based weight function to calculate a Fire Behaviour Risk rating that can plotted over time and spatially mapped. Development and use across three adjacent US National Forests is demonstrated, and predicted fire behaviour risk ratings are compared with observed variations in satellite-measured fire radiative power. This approach transforms fire weather conditions into simple and actionable fire behaviour risk metrics that wildland firefighters can use to support decisions that meet required objectives and keep people safe.

Interagency Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Guide - PMS 515

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The Interagency Fire Unmanned Aircraft Systems Operations Guide standardizes the processes and procedures for interagency use of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including pilot inspections and approvals. In support of fire management goals and objectives, the aviation community references these standards to utilize UAS in a safe, effective, and efficient manner. This guide further serves as a risk assessment for fire UAS operations and meets federal requirements for aviation safety and operational planning pertaining to recurring aviation missions. Agency level policy and guidance is provided through established federal or state plans and processes.

Updating LANDFIRE fuel data assists local planning efforts

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The LANDFIRE program provides a data safety net by producing biannually updated fuels products for all-lands in the United States. But even these data are two to three years old when they are delivered, and while they provide a good starting point, they are designed for national and regional level application. Local review and calibration is recommended to ensure that the data are suitable for smaller landscapes. An example from Idaho illustrates how adjusting LANDFIRE fuel data can ensure that current, accurate fuel information is ready to support fire and land management activities. 

Western Governors' National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative - Special report June 2017

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The goals of the National Forest and Rangeland Management Initiative are to:

  • Examine existing forest and rangeland management authorities and programs to determine their strengths and weaknesses;
  • Perform a detailed investigation of the role of collaboratives in landscape restoration;
  • Create a mechanism for states and land managers to share best practices, case studies and policy options for forest and rangeland management; and
  • Recommend improved forest and rangeland management authorities and encourage more effective collaboration.

This report outlines the launch year of the Initiative and includes both administrative and legislative recommendations.  

Bringing healthy sagebrush communities full circle

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through its Sage Grouse Initiative (SGI), is there to empower ranchers to make well-balanced improvements on their ranching operations that are good for wildlife living in sagebrush country, as well as their business’s bottom line.

To highlight the effectiveness and on-going success of this multi-faceted working lands approach, they've introduced the “Healthy Sagebrush Communities” websitestory map, and poster.

Fire Science Exchange Network - Fostering information flow

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The Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) Fire Science Exchange Network is a national collaboration of 15 regional fire science exchanges that provides the most relevant, current wildland fire science information to federal, state, local, tribal, and private stakeholders within ecologically similar regions. The network brings fire managers, practitioners, and scientists together to address regional fire management needs and challenges.

Factors influencing federal and non-federal collaboration with reducing wildland fire risk

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Conditions such as dense vegetation and drought have resulted in more severe wildland fires in recent years, and some communities are experiencing the devastating effects of these fires. Federal agencies can collaborate with nonfederal stakeholders to reduce the risk of wildland fires. This is a key aspect of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy. The Government Accountability Office recommends that federal agencies work with the Wildland Fire Leadership Council—which provides oversight and leadership for the strategy—to develop measures to assess progress toward achieving the strategy’s goals.

Conservation Efforts Database: improving knowledge of landscape conservation actions

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The CONSERVATION EFFORTS DATABASE (CED) was codeveloped by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the Great Northern Landscape Conservation Cooperative (GNLCC):

  • USFWS provided a comprehensive ecological assessment separated by threats and efforts, and database structure based on user needs.
  • USGS provided database and website design expertise building off of the Land Treatment Digital Library.
  • GNLCC provided ecological, database, and GIS expertise, greatly enhancing CED capabilities.

Many state and federal partners provided input and feedback, ranging from design recommendations to policy sideboards, ensuring the CED has broad applicability and interoperability

Approaches for modeling in landscape genetics through landscape-directed dispersal simulations

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Researchers developed landscape-directed dispersal simulations and tested a series of replicates that emulate independent empirical datasets for greater sage-grouse and eastern foxsnake. The study helps establish methods for using liner mixed models to identify the features underlying patterns of dispersal across a variety of landscapes.

 

Monitoring protocols: options, approaches, implementation, benefits

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This chapter reviews some of the conceptual and technological advancements and provide examples of how they have influenced rangeland monitoring. It then discuss implications of these developments for rangeland management and highlight what are seen as challenges and opportunities for implementing effective rangeland monitoring. It concludes with a vision for how monitoring can contribute to rangeland information needs in the future.

Bringing healthy sagebrush communities full circle

The Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), through its Sage Grouse Initiative, works to empower ranchers to make well-balanced improvements on their ranching operations that are good for wildlife living in sagebrush country, as well as their business’ bottom line.

To highlight the effectiveness and on-going success of this multi-faceted working lands approach, they've developed a “Healthy Sagebrush Communities” webpage, story map, and poster.   

Sagebrush ecosystem conservation and management: ecoregional assessment tools and models for the Wyoming basins

This book adds to current knowledge about the regional status of the sagebrush ecosystem, the distribution of habitats, the threats to the ecosystem, and the influence of threats and habitat conditions on occurrence and abundance of sagebrush associated fauna and flora in the Wyoming Basins.

Mapping the future: US exposure to multiple landscape stressors

This bulletin summarizes work by an interdisciplinary team of Pacific Northwest Research Station and Oregon State University scientists who created maps of the conterminous United States that indicate landscape exposure to concentrated wildfire potential, insects and disease risk, urban and exurban development, and climate change.

Mapping the future: US exposure to multiple landscape stressors

In this study, an interdisciplinary team of Pacific Northwest Research Station and Oregon State University scientists created maps of the conterminous United States that indicate landscape exposure to concentrated wildfire potential, insects and disease risk, urban and exurban development, and climate change. 

Range-wide connectivity of priority areas for greater sage-grouse: implications for long-term conservation from graph theory

This study used graph theory, representing priority areas as spatially distributed nodes interconnected by movement corridors, to understand the capacity of priority areas to function as connected networks in the Bi-State, Central, and Washington regions of the Greater Sage-Grouse range.

Response of aboveground carbon balance to long-term, experimental enhancements in precipitation seasonality is contingent on plant community type in cold-desert rangelands

This study measured aboveground C pools and fluxes at leaf, soil, and ecosystem scales over a single growing season in plots that had 200 mm of supplemental precipitation added in either winter or summer for the past 21 years, in shrub- and exotic-bunchgrass-dominated garden plots. 

Bridging the gap: Joint Fire Science Program outcomes

This brief summarizes data and studies to determine whether the results of JFSP-funded projects are reaching potential users and informing management decisions and actions. Those studies have helped identify issues and influence changes within the program. While some studies showed that JFSP-funded research is being used for planning and for supporting treatment prescriptions, they also identified barriers that prevent greater use of fire science information by the broader fire management community. These outcomes studies are an important tool to help the JFSP address those barriers and continue to make program improvements.

Application of rangeland health indicators on forested plots on the Fishlake National Forest, Utah

This study adapted and applied four rangeland health indicators to data compiled by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program for research locations on the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah.

Restoration handbook for sagebrush steppe ecosystems with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitat—Part 3. Site level restoration decisions

This handbook walks managers and practitioners through a number of site-specific decisions managers face before selecting the appropriate type of restoration. This site-level decision tool for restoration of sagebrush steppe ecosystems is organized in nine steps.

The affluence-vulnerability interface: intersecting scales of risk, privilege, and disaster

This paper examines vulnerability in the context of affluence and privilege. It focuses on the 1991 Oakland Hills Firestorm in California, USA to examine long-term lived experiences of the disaster. Vulnerability is typically understood as a condition besetting poor and marginalized communities. Frequently ignored in these discussions are the experiences of those who live in more affluent areas.

Commonly referenced wildland fire initiatives, programs, and networks

Numerous agencies, organizations, and collaboratives conduct activities related to wildland fire. Understanding all of their different roles and objectives can be confusing. This fact sheet provides brief descriptions of some of the most common wildland fire initiatives, programs, networks, and other efforts taking place around the country. 

Wildfire: toward understanding its effects on wildlife

This short synthesis highlights findings of the national Fire and Fire Surrogates Study, which conducted an integrated network of experiments at 13 sites across the United States, many of which took place on National Forest lands.  Results suggest that more species increased in number than decreased. For example, researchers reported that populations of western bluebirds (Sialia mexicana) increased following prescribed fire; whereas mountain chickadees (Poecile gambeli) decreased in response to thinning treatments. The positive and negative responses of deer mice (Peromyscus maniculatus), gray-collared chipmunks (Tamias cinereicollis) and least chipmunks (T. minimus) varied among the sites; but the overall biomass of small mammals increased in response to the fire treatments. Researchers also found that small mammals’ responses were related to fire uniformity: the more heterogeneous the post-fire landscape, the greater the proportion of positive responses.

Landscape-level prescriptions: a new foundation for restoration planning

This brief was developed to help guide collaborative landscape planning efforts, through use of a framework of seven core principles and their implications for management of fire-prone interior forest landscapes.

Key findings included: 

  • Historically, forests were spatially heterogeneous at multiple scales as a result of interactions among succession, disturbance, and other processes.
  • Planning and management are needed at fine to broad scales to restore the key characteristics of resilience.
  • Landscapes must be viewed as socio-ecological systems that provide services to people within the limited capacities of ecosystems.
  • Development of landscape-level prescriptions is the foundation of restoration planning. 

Short-term impacts of fire-mediated habitat alterations on an isolated bighorn sheep population

This study found that prescribed fires conducted under favorable conditions (2011) induced potentially positive bighorn responses including high survival and increased use of treated areas. Fires during drought conditions were more widespread with little vegetative response (2012) and coincided with increased bighorn mortality in spring 2013. 

Sexual harassment and gender discrimination in wildland fire management

This Association for Fire Ecology position paper is an organization-wide initiative with two objectives: to determine the prevalence of these two issues throughout the profession, including management, education, and research; and to provide a set of principles and actions that are strongly recommended for implementation in order to foster organizational cultures of respect, equity, and parity.

Human land-use has greater effects on forests than climate change

This KQED Science article indicates that since 1600, the way humans have used land in the Sierra has had more effect on fire behavior than climate change. Valerie Trouet, associate professor of dendrochronology at the University of Arizona and lead coauthor of a study about humans and fire, suggests that land managers and owners can affect fire behavior through activities that make forests more resilient.

Spatial variability in tree regeneration after wildfire delays and dampens future bark beetle outbreaks

Climate change is altering the frequency and severity of forest disturbances such as wildfires and bark beetle outbreaks, thereby increasing the potential for sequential disturbances to interact. Interactions can amplify or dampen disturbances, yet the direction and magnitude of future disturbance interactions are difficult to anticipate because underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. We tested how variability in postfire forest development affects future susceptibility to bark beetle outbreaks, focusing on mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) and Douglas-fir beetle (Dendroctonus pseudotsugae) in forests regenerating from the large high-severity fires that affected Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 1988. We combined extensive field data on postfire tree regeneration with a well-tested simulation model to assess susceptibility to bark beetle outbreaks over 130 y of stand development. Despite originating from the same fire event, among-stand variation in forest structure was very high and remained considerable for over a century. Thus, simulated emergence of stands susceptible to bark beetles was not temporally synchronized but was protracted by several decades, compared with stand development from spatially homogeneous regeneration. Furthermore, because of fire-mediated variability in forest structure, the habitat connectivity required to support broad-scale outbreaks and amplifying cross-scale feedbacks did not develop until well into the second century after the initial burn.

Duff distribution influences fire severity and post-fire vegetation recovery in sagebrush steppe

In this study, field sampling and analysis were conducted across environmental gradients following the 2007 Tongue-Crutcher Wildfire in southwestern Idaho to determine the conditions most influential in post-fire vegetation recovery patterns. Duff depth and fire severity were determined to be the most influential factors affecting post-fire vegetation response. 

Hierarchical population structure in greater sage-grouse provides insight into management boundary delineation

This study found two levels of hierarchical genetic subpopulation structure. These subpopulations occupy significantly different elevations and are surrounded by divergent vegetative communities with different dominant subspecies of sagebrush, each with its own chemical defense against herbivory. We propose five management groups reflective of genetic subpopulation structure. These genetic groups are largely synonymous with existing priority areas for conservation. On average, 85.8 % of individuals within each conservation priority area assign to a distinct subpopulation. Our results largely support existing management decisions regarding subpopulation boundaries.

Using resilience and resistance concepts to manage threats to sagebrush ecosystems, Gunnison sage-grouse, and greater sage-grouse in their eastern range: a strategic multi-scale approach

This report provides a strategic approach developed by a Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies interagency working group for conservation of sagebrush ecosystems, Greater sage-grouse, and Gunnison sage-grouse. It uses information on (1) factors that influence sagebrush ecosystem resilience to disturbance and resistance to nonnative invasive annual grasses and (2) distribution and relative abundance of sage-grouse populations to address persistent ecosystem threats, such as invasive annual grasses and wildfire, and land use and development threats, such as oil and gas development and cropland conversion, to develop effective management strategies. A sage-grouse habitat matrix links relative resilience and resistance of sagebrush ecosystems with modeled sage-grouse breeding habitat probabilities to help decisionmakers assess risks and determine appropriate management strategies at both landscape and site scales. Areas for targeted management are assessed by overlaying matrix components with Greater sage-grouse Priority Areas for Conservation and Gunnison sage-grouse critical habitat and linkages, breeding bird concentration areas, and specific habitat threats. Decision tools are discussed for determining the suitability of target areas for management and the most appropriate management actions. A similar approach was developed for the Great Basin that was incorporated into the Federal land use plan amendments and served as the basis of a Bureau of Land Management Fire and Invasives Assessment Tool, which was used to prioritize sage-grouse habitat for targeted management activities.

Short and long-term effects of pinyon-juniper encroachment on hydrology

This report found that experiments conducted the first few years after tree cutting suggest not much had changed after tree removal treatments. The longer-term results are preliminary, but suggest that hydrologic function and resistance to erosion generally increase where treatments enhance grass, forb, and litter cover in the interspaces between trees and shrubs. 

Recovering lost ground: effects of soil burn intensity on nutrients and ectomycorrhiza communities of ponderosa pine seedlings

This paper reports that community results from burn treatments can mean an increase in patchy spatial distribution of ectomycorrhiza (EMF). Quick initiation of EMF recolonization is possible depending on the size of high intensity burn patches, proximity of low and unburned soil, and survival of nearby hosts. 

Occupancy and abundance of predator and prey: implications of the fire-cheatgrass cycle in sagebrush ecosystems

This research suggests that widespread environmental change within sagebrush ecosystems, especially the fire-cheatgrass cycle (e.g., invasion of cheatgrass and increased fire frequency) and human land disturbances, are directly and indirectly influencing ground squirrels and badgers.

Mowing Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis) cover effects across northern and central Nevada

This study found that to encourage perennial grasses over annual herbaceous species in Wyoming big sagebrush communities, mowing is better suited to locales lacking exotic annuals and retaining ample cover of perennial grasses and sagebrush of smaller size.

Identifying key climate and environmental factors affecting rates of post-fire big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) recovery in the northern Columbia Basin, USA

This study found that post-fire recovery of big sagebrush in the northern Columbia Basin is a slow process that may require several decades on average, but faster recovery rates may occur under specific site and climate conditions

Beyond the single species climate envelope: a multifaceted approach to mapping climate change vulnerability

 In this article, authors were able to integrate complex interactions, and visualize the distribution of risk across broad spatial scales, providing land managers and researchers a valuable tool for climate change vulnerability assessments and action plans.

Quaking aspen in Utah: integrating recent science with management

Quaking aspen in Utah: integrating recent science with management

This article reviews trends in aspen science and management, particularly in Utah and highlights recent studies continuing the tradition to keep rangeland managers informed of important developments, focusing on aspen functional types, historical cover change and climate warming, ungulate herbivory, and disturbance interactions.

Does prescribed fire promote resistance to drought in low elevation forests of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA?

This study compared trees in 6- to 28-year-old burned and unburned sites in the third drought year in mixed conifer forests at low elevation in Kings Canyon, Sequoia, and Yosemite national parks in California, USA.  Common conifer species found in the burned plots had significantly reduced probability of mortality compared to unburned plots during the drought.  Stand density was significantly lower in burned versus unburned sites, supporting the idea that reduced competition may be responsible for the differential drought mortality response.  

Nest-site selection and reproductive success of greater sage-grouse in a fire-affected habitat of northwestern Nevada

This study monitored the habitat-use patterns of 71 radio-marked sage-grouse inhabiting an area affected by wildfire in the Virginia Mountains of northwestern Nevada during 2009–2011. Sage-grouse selected micro-sites with greater shrub canopy cover and less cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) cover than random sites. Total shrub canopy, including sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) and other shrub species, at small spatial scales (0.8 ha and 3.1 ha) was the single contributing selection factor to higher nest survival. 

Emergence and early survival of early versus late seral species in Great Basin restoration in two different soil types

This study found that early seral natives generally outperformed late seral natives when growing with exotics and had earlier emergence timing, although results differed among functional groups and soil types. Survival probabilities, however, did not differ between the early and late seral mixes when growing without exotics. 

Local ecological knowledge and fire management: what does the public understand?

This study used survey data from three 2010 wildland fires to understand how ecological knowledge and education level affected fire management perception and understanding. Results suggest that education may play a mediating role in understanding complex wildfire issues but is not associated with a better understanding of fire management.

Science and traditional ecological knowledge strategic plan

The Science and Traditional Ecological Knowledge Strategic Plan guides the Great Basin LCC’s science program over a three to five year period (2015-2019). The plan outlines the LCC’s priority topics and how they will be updated, describes the process to determine annual focal topics and activities, and outlines how the LCC will implement, evaluate and adjust the science program. 

A field guide for rapid assessment of post-wildfire recovery potential in sagebrush and pinon-juniper ecosystems

This field guide provides a framework for rapidly evaluating post-fire resilience to disturbance, or recovery potential, and resistance to invasive annual grasses, and for determining the need and suitability of the burned area for seeding. The framework identifies six primary components that largely determine resilience to disturbance, resistance to invasive grasses, and potential successional pathways following wildfire, as well as the information sources and tools needed to evaluate each component. 

Restoration handbook for sagebrush steppe ecosystems with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitat—Part 1. Concepts for understanding and applying restoration

This handbook discusses concepts surrounding landscape and restoration ecology of sagebrush ecosystems and greater sage-grouse that habitat managers and restoration practitioners need to know to make informed decisions regarding where and how to restore specific areas.

Pros and cons of tree removal by shredding & Using ecological variables to define restoration success

In SageSTEP newsletter Issue 27,  researchers explore some of the principal effects shredding may have on sagebrush steppe fuel-beds, and potential fire behavior and fire severity. Also in this issue, is a discussion about conducting restoration activities with specific objectives in mind in order to be successful.

Restoration handbook for sagebrush steppe ecosystems with emphasis on greater sage-grouse habitat—Part 2. Landscape level restoration decisions

This handbook will guide decision makers through the important process steps of identifying appropriate questions, gathering appropriate data, developing landscape objectives, and prioritizing landscape patches where potential sites for restoration projects may be located. Once potential sites are selected, land managers can move to the site-specific decision tool to guide restoration decisions at the site level.

Identifying key climate and environmental factors affecting rates of post-fire big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) recovery in the northern Columbia Basin, USA

Post-fire recovery of big sagebrush in the northern Columbia Basin is a slow process that may require several decades on average, but faster recovery rates may occur under specific site and climate conditions. Read full article.

Scanning the future of wildfire: resilience ahead...whether we like it or not?

This research brought together futures researchers and wildfire specialists to envision what the future holds for wildfire impacts and how the wildfire community may respond to the complex suite of emerging challenges. The consensus of the project’s foresight panel suggests that an era of resilience is ahead: but that this resilience may come either with a very high cost (after some kind of collapse), in a more systematic way (that is, if the wildfire community plans for, and fosters, resilience), or something in between. Read the Fire Science Digest.

Effects of drought on forests and rangelands in the United States: a comprehensive science synthesis

This assessment establishes the scientific foundation needed to manage for drought resilience and adaptation. Focal areas include drought characterization; drought impacts on forest processes and disturbances such as insect outbreaks and wildfire; and consequences for forest and rangeland values.

Foundational literature for moving native plant materials in changing climates

This bibliography reflects the growing interest in assisted migration, the intentional movement of plant materials in response to climate change, and provides a central foundation for collaboration in generating research questions, conducting studies, transferring and acquiring data, expanding studies to key species and geographic regions, and guiding native plant transfer in changing climates.

Invasive species and climate change (Chapter 7)

This review discusses how climate change may modify invasive species and the tools used to manage them. It will help guide development of important research questions, the answers to which will better position us to devise and apply meaningful management options to address invasive species in both present and future climates. 

Biological soil crust response to late season prescribed fire in a Great Basin juniper woodland

Compared with unburned plots, the biomass of cyanobacteria was diminished under juniper and sagebrush; it was reduced in the interspaces in both burned and unburned plots. Nitrogen fixation rates declined over time in juniper plots and interspaces but not in sagebrush plots. Although fire negatively affected some biological soil crust organisms in some parts of the early-seral juniper woodland, the overall impact on the crusts was minimal. Read the full article.

Projections of contemporary and future climate niche for Wyoming big sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata subsp. wyomingensis): a guide for restortation

Researchers modeled the climatic envelope for subspecies wyomingensis for contemporary and future climates (decade 2050). This model and its predictions can be used as a restoration-planning tool to assess vulnerability of climatic extirpation over the next few decades. Read full article.

Vegetation response to pinon and juniper tree shredding

Researchers determined vegetation response to fuel reduction by tree mastication (shredding) or seeding and then shredding. Findings suggested that shredding or seeding and then shredding should facilitate wildfire suppression, increase resistance to weed dominance, and lead toward greater resilience to disturbance by increasing perennial herbaceous cover. Read the full article.

Wildfires, once confined to a season, burn earlier and longer

Fires, once largely confined to a single season, have become a continual threat in some places, burning earlier and later in the year, in the United States and abroad. They have ignited in the West during the winter and well into the fall, have arrived earlier than ever in Canada and have burned without interruption in Australia for almost 12 months. Read the full New York Times article.

Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Conference: All Hands, All Lands

Proceeding recordings are available from the February 2016 Sagebrush Ecosystem Conservation Conference co-sponsored by the Great Basin Consortium and the Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies and Utah State University. Registration (free) is required to view the recordings. Post-conference survey results and feedback are also available. 

Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: Vol. 2 for fire behavior specialists, researchers, and meterorologists

This report synthesizes existing extreme fire behavior knowledge in a way that connects the weather, fuel, and topographic factors that contribute to development of extreme fire behavior. It focuses on the state of the science but also considers how that science is currently presented to the fire management community, including incident commanders, fire behavior analysts, incident meteorologists, National Weather Service office forecasters, and firefighters. 

Living with fire: how social scientists are helping wildland-urban interface communities reduce wildfire risk

Community wildfire protection plans (CWPPs) are an effective way to reduce wildfire risk in the U.S. wildland urban interface (WUI), but most WUI communities have no such plan in place. Community support and involvement are necessary for CWPPs to succeed. WUI communities reflect a wide range of social characteristics, preventing an effective “one-size-fits-all” approach to CWPP creation. Read the full Bulletin.

Opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes

 The field of adaptive management has been embraced by researchers and managers in the United States as an approach to improve natural resource stewardship in the face of uncertainty and complex environmental problems. Integrating multiple knowledge sources and feedback mechanisms is an important step in this approach. Our objective is to contribute to the limited literature that describes the benefits of better integrating indigenous knowledge (IK) with other sources of knowledge in making adaptive-management decisions. Specifically, we advocate the integration of traditional phenological knowledge (TPK), a subset of IK, and highlight opportunities for this knowledge to support policy and practice of adaptive management with reference to policy and practice of adapting to uncharacteristic fire regimes and climate change in the western United States.

Read full article.

Synthesizing best-management practices for desert tortoise habitats

Persistence of natural populations of the federally listed desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) in the Mojave and western Sonoran Desert partly depends on habitat quality. Tortoises must obtain
protection (provided by native shrubs offering cover and shade), soil microsites free from harmful contaminants for digging burrows, digestible and nutritionally rich forage (typically provided by certain annual and perennial forbs), and drinking water provided by habitats. 

This review synthesizes best-management practices for reducing non-native grasses while increasing native species and desirable features in desert tortoise habitats. 

Read more from the California Fire Science Consortium research brief.

 

Effectiveness and longevity of wildland fire as a fuel treatment

In the western US, many landscapes have experienced substantial fire activity in recent decades. This study informs decision making by fire managers. Knowing that fire occurrence, size, and severity are limited by recent wildfires should provide greater flexibility and confidence in managing fire incidents and managing for resource benefit. Specifically, the findings from this study can be used by fire managers to help predict whether a previous fire will act as a fuel treatment based on fire age, forest type, and expected weather.

Learn more from the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network research brief.

Restoring desert biocrusts after severe disturbances

Applying salvaged biocrust material to severely disturbed soil rapidly reestablished favorable biocrust characteristics and stabilized soil more than doing nothing. This is likely a useful restoration strategy when unavoidable soil disturbances are planned and there are opportunities to salvage material.

Learn more from the California Fire Science Consortium research brief.

Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory

Great Basin Coordination Center issued a Fuels and Fire Behavior Advisory for the western and northern Nevada, southeastern Oregon, and southwestern Idaho regions on July 7, 2016.

 Low fuel moisture coupled with heavy fine fuel loading after a long period of dry and hot weather over w and n NV, se OR, and sw ID point to continued potential for extreme fire behavior. This threat is especially pronounced in locations with sagebrush with heavy fine fuel loading in the understory; particularly when fires occur in conjunction with sustained winds greater than 20
mph.

Read the full report.

 

 

Collaborative science to foster native plant conservation and restoration

FORT COLLINS, Colo., July 11, 2016 – USFS, RMRS News Release -

The health of ecosystems across the West is increasingly impacted by many factors including climate change and drought. This is challenging land managers with a pressing need for more science-based integrated restoration methods. To meet that challenge, scientists from the three western U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service’s research stations – Pacific Northwest, Pacific Southwest and Rocky Mountain – established a collaborative group called the Western Center for Native Plant Conservation and Restoration Science.

Read the USFS News Release

Vulnerability of cattle production to climate change on U.S. rangelands

Vulnerability of cattle production to climate change on U.S. rangelands

We examined multiple climate change effects on cattle production for U.S. rangelands to estimate
relative change and identify sources of vulnerability among seven regions. Climate change
effects to 2100 were projected from published models for four elements: forage quantity, vegetation type trajectory, heat stress, and forage variability. Departure of projections from a baseline (2001–2010) was used to estimate vulnerability. Projections show: (1) an increase in forage quantity in northerly regions, (2) a move toward grassier vegetation types overall but with considerable spatial heterogeneity, (3) a rapid increase in the number of heat-stress days across all regions, and (4) higher forage variability for most regions. Results are robust across multiple elements for declining production in southerly and western regions. In northern and interior regions, the benefits of increased net primary productivity or more grassy vegetation are mostly tempered by increases in heat stress and forage variability. Because projected directions of change differed, use of projections for only one element will limit our ability to anticipate impacts and manage for sustained cattle production.