Research and Publications

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Wildfire: Helping aspen get one stem ahead of a warming climate

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Fire can be a useful tool for promoting migrations of shade-intolerant wind dispersed species such as aspen. Aspen successfully established in burned areas far from seed sources, so managers may choose to focus attention on other species in postburn reforestation.

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Effectiveness of fuel treatments at the landscape scale: State of understanding and key research gaps

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Maximizing the effectiveness of fuel treatments at the landscape scale is a key research and management need given the inability to treat all areas at risk from wildfire, and there is a growing body of scientific literature assessing this need. We synthesized existing scientific literature on landscape-scale fuel treatment effectiveness in North American ecosystems through a systematic literature review. We identified 127 studies that addressed this topic using one of three approaches: simulation modeling, empirical analysis, or case studies. Of these 127 studies, most focused on forested landscapes of the western United States. Together, they generally provided evidence that fuel treatments reduced negative outcomes of wildfire and in some cases promoted beneficial wildfire outcomes, although these effects diminished over time following treatment and were influenced by factors such as weather conditions at the time of fire. The simulation studies showed that fuel treatment extent, size, placement, timing, and prescription influenced the degree of effectiveness.

WUI Resource Collections

Wildland Urban Interface- Resource Collections

Check out our collection of resources addressing the many factors associated with and impacting fuels, fire, and life in the wildland urban interface (WUI).

Development in the WUI

Social and Behavioral Aspects of the WUI

Structure Protection in the WUI

WUI Fire Risk

WUI Fuels/Fuel Treatments

WUI Fire Behavior/Fire Response

WUI Economics

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Integrating Potential Operational Delineations (PODs) into community wildfire protection plans

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After they have been delineated, PODs are essentially big boxes on the landscape that illustrate where fire could potentially be contained. Collaborators can then use CWPPs and other planning processes to fill those boxes with a wide variety of local and statewide spatial data about expected fire behavior, homes, infrastructure, and other values at risk to inform where resources should be expended to protect community values. Because PODs delineate where fires are likely to be contained, they can help operationalize CWPPs. Like CWPPs, PODs institutionalize knowledge and can be used to create a variety of maps and spatial data products. However, the real value of PODs and CWPPs comes from the collaborative processes used to create them, the interagency coordination and conversations they facilitate, and their power as communication tools between communities, land  management agencies, and other stakeholders. By incorporating the PODs framework into a new or updated CWPP, a community is able to incorporate the latest science and use an operationally based planning framework that is broadly adopted and supported by federal agencies.

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How interactions between wildfire and seasonal soil moisture fluxes drive N cycling in northern Sierra Nevada forests

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To examine the short-term effects of wildfire on belowground processes in the northern Sierra Nevada, we collected soil samples along a gradient from unburned to high fire severity over 10  months following a wildfire. This included immediate pre- and post-fire sampling for many variables at most sites. While season and soil moisture did not substantially alter pH, microbial biomass, net N mineralization, and nitrification in unburned locations, they interacted with burn severity in complex ways to constrain N cycling after fire. In areas that burned, pH increased (at least initially) after fire, and there were non-monotonic changes in microbial biomass. Net N mineralization also had variable responses to wetting in burned locations. These changes suggest burn severity and precipitation patterns can interact to alter N cycling rates following fire.

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Reimagine fire science for the anthropocene

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We synthesize insights needed to better address the long-standing challenges of innovation across disciplines to (i) promote coordinated research efforts; (ii) embrace different ways of knowing and knowledge generation; (iii) promote exploration of fundamental science; (iv) capitalize on the “firehose” of data for societal benefit; and (v) integrate human and natural systems into models across multiple scales. Fire science is thus at a critical transitional moment. We need to shift from observation and modeled representations of varying components of climate, people, vegetation, and fire to more integrative and predictive approaches that support pathways toward mitigating and adapting to our increasingly flammable world, including the utilization of fire for human safety and benefit. Only through overcoming institutional silos and accessing knowledge across diverse communities can we effectively undertake research that improves outcomes in our more fiery future.

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Social and historical dimensions of wildfire research and the consideration given to practical knowledge: A review

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We carried out a systematic literature review involving both a global and a case study approach (Portugal) to investigate the configuration of the social dimensions of wildfires in academic literature. We advance two interlocking claims: (i) human dimensions of wildfires are often simplified into shallow indicators of anthropogenic activities lacking social and historical grounding, and (ii) fire knowledge of Indigenous peoples and/or other forest and fire users and professionals remains overlooked. These arguments were manifest from the global-scale review and were confirmed by the case study of Portugal. The individual perceptions, memories and cultural practices of forest and fire users and professionals and the historical co-developments of fires, people and forests have been missing from wildfire research. Including and highlighting those perspectives will both add to existing knowledge and inform policies related to fire management by making them socially meaningful.

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Probabilistic wildfire risk estimates for individual real estate parcels for the contiguous US

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Historical wildfire ignition locations and NOAA’s hourly time series of surface weather at 2.5 km resolution are used to drive ELMFIRE to produce wildfire hazards representative of the 2022 and 2052 conditions at 30 m resolution, with the future weather conditions scaled to the IPCC CMIP5 RCP4.5 model ensemble predictions. Winds and vegetation were held constant between the 2022 and 2052 simulations, and climate change’s impacts on the future fuel conditions are the main contributors to the changes observed in the 2052 results. Non-zero wildfire exposure is estimated for 71.8 million out of 140 million properties across CONUS. Climate change impacts add another 11% properties to this non-zero exposure class over the next 30 years, with much of this change observed in the forested areas east of the Mississippi River. “Major” aggregate wildfire exposure of greater than 6% over the 30-year analysis period from 2022 to 2052 is estimated for 10.2 million properties. The FSF-WFM represents a notable contribution to the ability to produce property-specific, climate-adjusted wildfire risk assessments in the US.

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Reviewing the socio-demographic and environmental justice aspects of the wildfire literature

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We reviewed the socio-demographic dimensions of the wildfire literature using an environmental justice (EJ) lens. Specifically using a literature review of wildfires, human communities, social vulnerability, and homeowner mitigation, we conducted bibliometric and statistical analyses of 299 publications. The majority of publications were from the United States, followed by Canada and Australia, and most dealt with homeowner mitigation of risk, defensible space, and fuel treatments in WUI areas. Most publications studied the direct effects of wildfire related damage. Secondary impacts such as smoke, rural and urban communities, and the role of poverty and language were less studied. Based on a proposed wildfire-relevant EJ definition, the first EJ publication was in 2004, but the term was first used as a keyword in 2018. Studies in WUI communities statistically decreased the likelihood that a publication was EJ relevant. There was a significant relationship between EJ designation and inclusion of race/ethnicity and poverty variables in the study. Complexity across the various definitions of EJ suggest that it should not be used as a quantitative or binary metric; but as a lens to better understand socio-ecological impacts to diverse communities. We present a wildfire-relevant definition to potentially guide policy formulation and account for social and environmental justice issues.

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Quantifying drivers of change in social-ecological systems: Land management impacts wildfire probability in forests of the western US

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Specifically, we examine the difference in wildfire probability in similar forests under different management regimes (federally managed vs. privately owned) in eleven western states from 1989–2016 and compare the magnitude of the management effect to the effect of climate variables. We find a greater probability of wildfires in federally managed forests than in privately owned forests, with a 127% increase in the absolute difference between the two management regimes over the 28 year time period. However, in 1989, federally managed forests were 2.67 times more likely to burn than privately owned forests, but in 2016, they were only 1.52 times more likely to burn. Finally, we find that the effect of the different management regimes is greater than the marginal (one-unit change) effect of most climate variables. Our results indicate that projections of future fire probability must account for both climate and management variables, while our methodology provides a framework for quantitatively comparing different drivers of change in complex social-ecological systems.

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