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Smoke 101 and differences between wildfire and prescribed fire smoke in the western U.S.

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An often-overheard phrase, “there is no future without smoke,” describes fire, and associated smoke, as an ecological process inextricably tied to Western forests. While fire can provide many benefits such as reducing fuels and renewing forests, smoke from fires poses a serious challenge to public health, land managers, and air quality regulators. So, can we reduce these challenges?

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Not just another cheatgrass: The ventenata invasion in the interior Northwest

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Invasive annual grasses have long been known to increase wildfire danger in shrublands and woodlands of the American West. Ventenata (Ventenata dubia) is one such grass. First reported in North America in 1952 in Washington state, it is now expanding into previously invasion- resistant forest landscapes. Unlike cheatgrass, another invasive grass, ventenata can grow in sparsely vegetated rocky meadows. These forest scablands, often embedded within a forested landscape, have historically served as natural fire breaks. Lacking sufficient fuels, the scablands usually stopped fire from spreading into neighboring fireprone forests. However, when ventenata invades scablands and other open areas, it can create a highly flammable bridge between adjacent forested areas and act as a “ fire conveyor belt” that facilitates the spread of fire across a landscape.

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Potential Operational Delineations (PODs) in practice

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Reducing PODs (potential operational delineations) to a network of suppression-focused fuel breaks may dilute the intent and diminish the richness of the framework. Using PODs and fuel breaks to perpetuate fire exclusion is not likely to be effective and may set us up for failure. In many forest types, we may need to rethink design of fuel breaks along POD boundaries to support expansion of proactive use of fire.

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An experiment in co-producing fire and smoke science

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n early October 2023, nearly fifty research scientists and technicians collaborating with the USDA Forest Service-sponsored Fire and Smoke Model Evaluation Experiment (FASMEE) gathered on the Fishlake National Forest to collect measurements from a rare stand-replacing prescribed fire. Developing new approaches to predict fire and smoke behavior, scientists representing the USDA Forest Service, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Tall Timbers, Desert Research Institute, and universities from across the country, partnered to collect fire-related data from belowground to space. These synergistic research projects characterized fuels, measured radiant heat and energy, evaluated smoke concentrations, and documented fire effects on vegetation and even bats.

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Post-fire field guide: Create and use post-fire soil burn severity maps

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For nearly 12 years, the Field Guide for Mapping Post-Fire Soil Burn Severity has provided BAER teams with consistent methodologies, tools, and terminology to quickly and accurately identify postfire conditions. RMRS Research Engineer Pete Robichaud and colleagues created the field guide, which is now available in Spanish.

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Using drones for forest monitoring

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Imagine being able to take a bird’s eye view of the forest: you could see the forest structure, how the trees are grouped, the height and size of each tree in a matter of moments as you cruise over. You could fly over the stand today, then again next year and examine the effects of a treatment or a wildfire or an insect outbreak. Uncrewed aerial systems (UAS – aka drones) are starting to allow managers to do just that.

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Equitable risk reduction factsheet from Wildfire Risk to Communities

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There are numerous resources available to help whole communities prepare for, respond to, and recover from wildfire and other disasters. This guide presents several focused on more equitable and inclusive strategies. These resources are intended to help communities and organizations expand their work to include all those impacted by wildfire. Note that not all resources will be appropriate for all and many more resources exist than can be listed here.

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Long-term change in desert annuals during restoration, Joshua Tree National Park

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It is not well understood whether desert plantings can facilitate recruitment of other natives (or mainly just non-natives), or whether facilitation changes through time as a restoration site matures. To address these uncertainties, we partnered with the National Park Service to study plant community change below planted perennials and in interspaces (areas between perennials) during 12 years (2009-2020) in Joshua Tree National Park, California, in the southern Mojave Desert.

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Tree recruitment over centuries: Influences of climate and wildfire

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This study uses tree cores gathered at three 4-hectare plots to make inferences about temporal aspects of tree recruitment in pine-dominated ecosystems of the California Sierra Nevada and the Sierra San Petro Martir in northwestern Mexico.

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Post-fire mastication effects on shrub regrowth

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In California’s dry mixed conifer forests, increasingly large high severity wildfires threaten to convert significant areas of forested land into shrub dominated landscapes in the absence of active reforestation, including control of competing vegetation. Previous studies have found that salvage logging and other methods used to prepare a site for reforestation may reduce shrub cover after wildfire. This study investigated the effect of masticated fuel depth on shrub growth where salvage logging and mastication followed high severity wildfire.

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