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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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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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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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Potential operational delineations: New horizons for proactive, risk-informed strategic land and fire management

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We organize our exploration of new horizons around three key areas, suggesting that PODs can enable climate-smart forest and fire management and planning, inform more agile and adaptive allocation of suppression resources, and enable risk-informed performance measurement. These efforts can be synergistic and self-reinforcing, and we argue that expanded application of PODs at local levels could enhance the performance of the broader wildland fire system. We provide rationales for each problem area and offer growth opportunities with attendant explanations and illustrations.

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Virtual fencing to create fuel breaks in the sagebrush steppe

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Cows were fitted with VF collars (calves not collared) that use Global Positioning System positioning to contain cattle inside fuel break boundaries and record animal locations at 5-min intervals. End-of-trial forage utilization was 48.5% ± 3.7% and 5.5% ± 0.7% for areas inside and outside of the fuel break, respectively. Daily percentage of cattle locations inside the fuel break was initially > 94% but declined to approximately 75% by the end of the trial. Percentage daily locations of dry cows and cow/calf pairs inside the fuel break was 98.5% ± 0.5% and 80.6% ± 1.1%, respectively (P < 0.001). Our data suggest virtual fencing can be a highly effective method of concentrating grazing to reduce herbaceous fuel biomass within linear fuel breaks. Efficacy of this method could be substantially impacted by use of dry versus cow/calf pairs.

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Sensitivity to weather drives Great Basin mesic resources and greater sage-grouse productivity

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We found the predicted positive relationship between mesic habitat availability and sage-grouse productivity, but annual precipitation explained additional variation in productivity even after accounting for mesic habitat availability. Hence, precipitation and drought may drive sage-grouse productivity via more than one mechanism acting on multiple demographic rates. Productivity was also limited by exotic annual grass invasion and conifer encroachment. Mesic habitat availability was a function of topographic relief, mean elevation, annual mean snow water equivalent, and winter temperatures, indicating that snowpack recharges the late summer mesic resources that support sage-grouse productivity. Management actions focused on maintaining and restoring mesic resources and drought resilient habitats, limiting the spread of exotic annual grasses, and reversing conifer encroachment should support future sage-grouse recruitment and help mitigate the effects of climate change.

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Management and environmental factors associated with simulated restoration seeding barriers in sagebrush steppe

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We tested the effects of site environmental variables (elevation, mean annual precipitation, heat load, and clay content) and management choices (seed source and planting date) on germination favorability and barrier occurrence (mean) and variability (coefficient of variation). Seedling exposure to barriers was strongly linked to management decisions in addition to site mean precipitation and elevation. Later fall plantings and seed sources with slower germination (lower mean germination favorability) were less likely to encounter freezing and drought barriers. These results suggest that management actions can play a role comparable to site environmental variables in reducing exposure of vulnerable seedlings to adverse weather conditions and subsequent effects on restoration outcomes.

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The impacts of wildfires of different burn severities on vegetation structure across the western US rangelands

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High severity wildfires led to the greatest decrease in cover for all plant functional types, while low severity wildfires caused the least decrease in the functional type cover in most cases, though some variations existed. Furthermore, the impacts of wildfires on vegetation cover were greater in woody (SHR and TREE) types than in herbaceous (AFG and PFG) types. Significant negative correlation existed between percent changes in AFG and PFG cover and SPEI indicating higher prefire soil moisture conditions likely increased fine fuel loads and led to a larger decrease in AFG and PFG cover following wildfires. Significant positive correlation existed between percent changes in SHR and TREE cover and SPEI indicating drier prefire conditions resulted in larger decreases in SHR and TREE cover following wildfires.

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Using postfire spatial variability to improve restoration success with seeded bitterbrush

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We evaluated seeding bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) after wildfire in former western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis ssp. occidentalis) canopy compared with interspace microsites at six locations for 3 yr post seeding. Bitterbrush abundance was 3.6-fold greater in former canopy compared with interspace microsites after 3 yr. Bitterbrush height was 1.5 to 2.5-fold greater in former canopy compared with interspace microsites. The first year after fire, exotic annual grass cover was 15.6-fold greater in interspace compared with canopy microsites. Abundance and cover of other herbaceous vegetation were generally also greater in the interspace. Exotic annual grass and native bunchgrass abundance increased substantially over time in former canopy microsites, suggesting abundant resource availability. Less herbaceous competition and presumably greater resource availability in former canopies probably resulted in greater success of seeded bitterbrush. These results suggest that capitalizing on spatial variability in environments can be used to increase restoration efficiency. After fire in western juniper−encroached rangelands, former juniper canopy microsites are a favorable environment for establishment and growth of seeded bitterbrush and could be targeted for restoration efforts to improve efficiency.

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