Research and Publications

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Identifying plausible community wildfire disasters in low-frequency fire regimes

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In this study, we used wildfire simulations and building location data to evaluate community wildfire exposure and identify plausible disasters that are not based on typical mean-based statistical approaches. We compared the location and magnitude of simulated disasters to historical disasters (1984–2020) in order to characterize plausible surprises which could inform future wildfire risk reduction planning. Results indicate that nearly half of communities are vulnerable to a future disaster, that the magnitude of plausible disasters exceeds any recent historical events, and that ignitions on private land are most likely to result in very high community exposure. Our methods, in combination with more typical actuarial characterizations, provide a way to support investment in and communication with communities exposed to low-probability, high-consequence wildfires.

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Application of the threat-based model framework in the BLM land health assessment and evaluation

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The threat-based model approach uses simplified ecosystem models to identify and map primary threats and determine potential management interventions. The study team found that the threat-based model supported the  findings from the BLM’s land health evaluation for the O’Keeffe allotment. The threat-based model approach offered another line of evidence in assessing upland standards. It also proved to be a valuable tool for  communicating with stakeholders, as it provided a spatial depiction of habitat condition and threats through maps and a framework to link threats to management actions. The BLM needs to further apply and study this methodology, but there is potential to use the threat-based model to streamline the land health evaluation process and provide a consistent assessment framework across public and private lands.

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Supporting a shift in wildfire management from fighting fires to thriving with fires

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Despite the increasing challenges wildfires are posing around the globe, and the flourishing production of high quality wildfire scientific knowledge, the ability of fire science to impact knowledge on the ground, for people, society, economy, and the environment, in a way that facilitates change in the current wildfire management system has been limited. We believe that one reason for this limited impact is due to the fragmentation of this scientific knowledge. Therefore, we propose a Translational Wildfire Science (TWFS) as a new field of knowledge that captures the comprehensive dynamics of wildfire events, that provides information relevant, useful, and accessible to practitioners and citizens, and that facilitates the transfer of scientific knowledge into practice. The foundations of TWFS, including the main principles, the overarching characteristics, and the approach of a TWFS scientist, are presented. Finally, the next steps to be undertaken to consolidate TWFS as a new scientific field are identified.

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Guiding principles for using satellite-derived maps in rangeland management

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Here, we advance the practice of using satellite-derived maps with four guiding principles designed to increase end user confidence and thereby accessibility of these data for decision-making.

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Reversing tree encroachment increases usable space for sage-grouse during the breeding season

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Sage-grouse increasingly selected areas closer to conifer removals and were 26% more likely to use removal areas each year after removal. Sage-grouse were most likely to select areas where conifer cover had been reduced by ≤10%. The proportion of available locations having a high relative probability of use increased from 5% to 31% between 2011 and 2017 in the treatment area and locations with the lowest relative probability of use decreased from 57% to 21% over the same period. Dynamics in relative probability of use at available locations in the control area were stochastic or stable and did not demonstrate clear temporal trends relative to the treatment area. Targeted conifer removal is an effective tool for increasing usable space for sage-grouse during the breeding season and for restoring landscapes affected by conifer expansion.

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A novel approach for estimating nonforest carbon stocks in support of forest plan revision

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Globally, more carbon is stored in the soil than in any other terrestrial form (Brevik 2013; Woodall et al. 2015). Soil organic carbon (SOC) may contain more than three times the carbon found in the atmosphere and terrestrial vegetation combined (Qafoku 2014). Soil organic carbon is derived from soil organic matter (i.e., decomposition of living organisms) and is generally about 58 percent of soil organic matter by weight (Pribyl 2010). Storage of SOC is limited by soil physical and chemical composition as well as microbial and plant community types, all of which are determined by soil moisture and temperature (Emmet et al. 2004; Kardol et al. 2010).

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Climate variability mediates changes in carbon and nitrogen pools caused by annual grass invasion

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Multivariate analyses and ANOVAs showed that in invasion stages where native shrub and perennial grass and forb communities were replaced by annual grass-dominated communities, the ecosystem lost more soil N and C in wet years. Path analysis showed that high water availability led to higher herbaceous cover in all invasion stages. In stages with native shrubs and perennial grasses, higher perennial grass cover was associated with increased soil C and N, while in annual-dominated stages, higher annual grass cover was associated with losses of soil C and N. Also, soil total C and C:N ratios were more homogeneous in annual-dominated invasion stages as indicated by within-site standard deviations. Loss of native shrubs and perennial grasses and forbs coupled with annual grass invasion may lead to long-term declines in soil N and C and hamper restoration efforts. Restoration strategies that use innovative techniques and novel species to address increasing temperatures and ICV and emphasize maintaining plant community structure—shrubs, grasses, and forbs—will allow sagebrush ecosystems to maintain C sequestration, soil fertility, and soil heterogeneity.

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Disturbance and sustainability in forests of the western US

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This report assesses recent forest disturbance in the Western United States and discusses implications for sustainability. Individual chapters focus on fire, drought, insects, disease, invasive plants, and socioeconomic impacts. Disturbance data came from a variety of sources, including the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, Forest Health Protection, and the National Interagency Fire Center. Disturbance trends with the potential to affect forest sustainability include alterations in fire regimes, periods of drought in some parts of the region, and increases in invasive plants, insects, and disease. Climate affects most disturbance processes, particularly drought, fire, and biotic disturbances, and climate change is expected to continue to affect disturbance processes in various ways and degrees.

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Adapting western North American forests to climate change and wildfires: 10 common questions

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Based on our review of the scientific evidence, a range of proactive management actions are justified and necessary to keep pace with changing climatic and wildfire regimes and declining forest heterogeneity after severe wildfires. Science-based adaptation options include the use of managed wildfire, prescribed burning, and coupled mechanical thinning and prescribed burning as is consistent with land management allocations and forest conditions. Although some current models of fire management in wNA are averse to short-term risks and uncertainties, the long-term environmental, social, and cultural consequences of wildfire management primarily grounded in fire suppression are well documented, highlighting an urgency to invest in intentional forest management and restoration of active fire regimes.

 

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Literature review and framework for decision factors that may influence the utilization of managed wildfire on federal lands

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This review spanned 1976 to 2013 and used thematic coding to identify key factors that affect the decision to manage a wildfire. A total of 110 descriptive factors categories were identified. These were classified into six key thematic groups, which addressed specific decision considerations. This nexus of factors and decision pathways formed what we describe as the ‘Managed Fire Decision Framework’, which contextualizes important pressures, barriers, and facilitators related to managed wildfire decision-making. The most prevalent obstacles to managing wildfire were operational concerns and risk aversion. The factor most likely to support managing a fire was the decision maker’s desire to see the strategy be implemented. Ultimately, we found that the managed fire decision-making process is extremely complex, and that this complexity may itself be a barrier to its implementation.

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