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We investigated how incident management teams consider and incorporate US Forest Service (USFS) fuel treatments into wildfire response. Our goals were to: 1) understand how forest and fire personnel communicate about existing treatments; 2) understand what treatment characteristics they look for to meet different objectives; and 3) gather recommendations for improving fuel treatments to support incident management. We conducted 59 interviews with fire and fuel personnel in the western United States. This work included seven case studies of 2020 and 2021 wildfires where existing fuel treatments were considered in incident response.
Reduced fire severity offers near-term buffer to climate-driven declines in conifer resilience across the western US
Postfire regeneration is sensitive to high-severity fire, which limits seed availability, and postfire climate, which influences seedling establishment. In the near-term, projected differences in recruitment probability between low- and high-severity fire scenarios were larger than projected climate change impacts for most species, suggesting that reductions in fire severity, and resultant impacts on seed availability, could partially offset expected climate-driven declines in postfire regeneration. Across 40 to 42% of the study area, we project postfire conifer regeneration to be likely following low-severity but not high-severity fire under future climate scenarios (2031 to
2050). However, increasingly warm, dry climate conditions are projected to eventually outweigh the influence of fire severity and seed availability. The percent of the study area considered unlikely to experience conifer regeneration, regardless of fire severity, increased from 5% in 1981 to 2000 to 26 to 31% by mid-century, highlighting a limited time window over which management actions that reduce fire severity may effectively support
postfire conifer regeneration.
Use of the Wildland Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) for full suppression and managed fires within the SW Region of the USFS
This study presents the results of thematic analysis from 46 semi-structured interviews with employees in the US Forest Service Southwestern Region with a WFDSS user account. Users indicated that the program is viewed as efficient for sharing information about wildfires and documenting management decision rationale. They identified emerging gaps in technical proficiency and the need for specialized training that creates high-level users to help guide teams using the program.
Goldilocks forbs: Survival is highest outside—but not too far outside—of Wyoming big sagebrush canopies
This study investigated survival of transplanted herbaceous seedlings at different distances from Wyoming big sagebrush canopies. We planted two native perennial forb species, Munro’s globemallow and common yarrow, and two native perennial grass species, bluebunch wheatgrass and bottlebrush squirreltail, at four distances from sagebrush canopies at six sites across the Intermountain West, repeated across 2 years. Under above-normal precipitation, proximity to sagebrush influenced first-year survival of the forb, but not grass, species. Globemallow and yarrow survival were highest mid-way between the canopy dripline and maximum interspace distance between neighboring sagebrush plants. Ground cover characteristics and globemallow survival covaried with respect to distance from shrub, suggesting ground cover characteristics as indicators of suitable planting microsites. Under drier conditions, survival of all species was low and unaffected by distance from canopies. Our results demonstrate the value of fine-tuning the canopy-interspace paradigm to more carefully consider how plant performance may differ across zones within the interspace region between plants, especially when the goal is to maximize plant establishment in nondrought years.
Extreme wildfire supersedes long-term fuel treatment influences on fuel and vegetation in chaparral ecosystems of northern CA
Vegetation and substrate burn severity was characterized as moderate across the study site and did not differ among treatments. Contrasting with higher pre-fire shrub density in the mastication + burning treatment, 2-year post-fire live shrub density did not differ among treatments. Higher pre-fire fine woody fuel loading in the mastication treatment did not correspond to post-fire fuel loading among treatments, while the hand thinned treatment was the only treatment where fine fuel loading was not significantly reduced post-fire. Total plant species richness increased in all treatment types following wildfire, largely driven by an increase in exotic species. Native cover decreased, and exotic cover increased in oak and chaparral types, but greater exotic species cover in the mastication + burning treatment in chaparral was maintained following wildfire.
Addressing barriers to proactive restoration of at-risk sagebrush communities: A causal layered analysis
Twelve in-depth interviews were conducted, and responses were analyzed using a qualitative method, causal layered analysis, not previously applied in a land management context. In the most superficial (litany) layer, cost and scale were prominent. The next (systemic) layer was framed by policy and bureaucracy limitations as well as technical barriers to implementation. In the third (worldview) layer, lack of a proactive management tradition within agencies represented a principal barrier. In the deepest (myth/metaphor) layer, the central belief is that human intervention should be used to protect ecosystem services only after they are disrupted due to human activity. Based on the different obstacles found at each level, we suggest ways to overcome the barriers detected.
Human population growth and accessibility from cities shape rangeland condition in the American West
Human population growth contributes to the decline of sagebrush-steppe rangelands. More accessible rangelands from population centers have higher quality. Open space preservation provides opportunities for rangeland conservation in cities. Coordinated conservation strategies are necessary to protect rangeland ecosystems.
Bird associations with floristics and physiognomy differ across five biogeographic subregions of the Great Basin
The plant species and functional groups that were associated significantly with occupancy varied considerably among subregions. Twenty-four percent of bird-plant associations that were significant at the Great Basin level were not significant in any subregion. Associations between occupancy and floristics differed the most between the Sierra Nevada and central or western subregions, and the least between the eastern and western subregions. Associations between occupancy and physiognomy differed the most between the Sierra Nevada and western and central subregions, and the least between the northern and western subregions. These differences and similarities may reflect variations in climate or bird communities or differences in sampling effort. In addition, the number and strength of associations between occupancy and floristic or physiognomic covariates varied substantially among bird species and subregions. We recommend that the management of birds across the Great Basin or other large ecoregions evaluate and account for geographic variation in environmental attributes associated with occupancy, and not assume bird-plant relations are consistent across the Great Basin.
Our results indicate pinyon jay populations are declining within Bird Conservation Region 16. Jay density was positively associated with sagebrush cover, Palmer Drought Severity Index, and pinyon-juniper cover. Conversely, jay populations were negatively associated with Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI). We found higher pinyon jay densities within locations possessing both sagebrush and pinyon-juniper cover; conditions characteristic of phase I and II conifer encroachment which are preferentially targeted for conifer removal to restore sagebrush communities. Conifer removal, if conducted at locations with high pinyon jay densities, is therefore likely to negatively affect jay abundance.
Study findings largely reflect methods applied in North America – particularly in the western USA – due to the high number of studies in that region. We find the use of different methods across studies introduces variations
that make it difficult to compare outcomes. Additionally, the existing suite of comparative studies focuses on one or few of many possible sources of uncertainty. Thus, compounding error and propagation throughout the many decisions made during analysis is not well understood. Finally, we suggest a broad set of methodological information and key rationales for decision-making that could facilitate future reviews.