Synthesis / Tech Report

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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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Climate change and western fires: A 3-part series from Ecological Applications

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Fire exclusion caused profound changes in many western North American forested landscapes, leaving them vulnerable to seasonal increases in drought and wildfire. As climate warms, the likelihood of severe, large-scale disturbance increases. There is generally strong agreement that wildfires, insects and disease are rapidly changing western landscapes and that the pace and scale of adaptive management is insufficient. However, confusion persists regarding the need for proactive management. In three articles, this Invited Feature evaluates the strength of scientific evidence regarding changing forest conditions, fire regimes, and science-based strategies for adapting western forests to climate change and future wildfires.

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We can better manage ecosystems by connecting solutions to constraints

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Here we synthesize and present a portfolio of broad structured approaches and specific actions that can be used to advance restoration of plant-invaded wetlands in a diversity of contexts immediately and over the long-term, linking these solutions to the constraints they best address. These solutions can be used by individual managers to chart a path forward when they are daunted by potentially needing to pivot from more familiar management actions to increase efficiency and efficacy in attaining restoration goals. In more complex collaborations with multiple actors, the shared vocabulary presented here for considering and selecting the most appropriate solution will be essential. Of course, every management context is unique (i.e., different constraints are at play) so we advocate that involved parties consider a range of potential solutions, rather than either assuming any single solution to be universally optimal or relying on a solution simply because it is familiar and feasible. Moving rapidly to optimally effective invasive plant management in wetlands may not be realistic, but making steady, incremental progress by implementing appropriate solutions based on clearly identified constraints will be critical to eventually attaining wetland restoration goals.

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Effects of post-fire management on vegetation and fuels following successive wildfires in mixed conifer forests

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Results of our study suggest that post-fire vegetation structure and woody fuels play an important role in subsequent fire severity patterns and ultimately influence the resilience of post-fire landscapes to future fire. In areas where high-severity reburn is undesirable, managers should consider treatments that reduce the density and continuity of vegetation, standing snags, and large woody surface fuels. In areas where proactive reforestation
is necessary, planting in areas that are in rough or mesic terrain may reduce the likelihood of high-severity reburn. The results of our study also suggest that active post-fire management may be necessary in areas that have burned at low to moderate severity in order to maintain or promote the restorative benefits of an initial fire or to restore the dominance of fire resilient tree species.

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Rangeland land-sharing, livestock grazing’s role in conservation

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A review of United States Fish and Wildlife Service listing documents for 282 threatened and endangered species in California reveals a complex and varied relationship between grazing and conservation. According to these documents, 51% or 143 of the federally listed animal and plant species are found in habitats with grazing. While livestock grazing is a stated threat to 73% (104) of the species sharing habitat with livestock, 59% (85) of the species are said to be positively influenced, with considerable overlap between species both threatened and benefitting from grazing. Grazing is credited with benefiting flowering plants, mammals, insects, reptiles, amphibians, fish, crustaceans, and bird species by managing the state’s novel vegetation and providing and maintaining habitat structure and ecosystem functions. Benefits are noted for species across all of California’s terrestrial habitats, except alpine, and for some aquatic habitats, including riparian, wetlands, and temporary pools. Managed grazing can combat anthropomorphic threats, such as invasive species and nitrogen deposition, supporting conservation-reliant species as part of land sharing.

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Sagebrush biome – A framework for conservation action

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This framework for 2021-2025 reflects collaborative, multi-state planning efforts to update SGI 2.0, and continues to build from a decade of success conserving the sagebrush biome. This framework also serves as NRCS’ ongoing contribution to the Sagebrush Conservation Strategy administered by Western Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies. Sharing common cross-boundary threats, NRCS staff across eleven western states collaborated to create this shared vision for conservation action.

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Effectiveness of post-fire soil erosion mitigation treatments: A review

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Wildfires are known to be one of the main causes of soil erosion and land degradation, and their impacts on ecosystems and society are expected to increase in the future due to changes in climate and land use. It is therefore vital to mitigate the increased hydrological and erosive response after wildfires to maintain the sustainability of ecosystems and protect the values at risk downstream from the fire-affected areas. Soil erosion mitigation treatments have been widely applied after wildfires but assessment of their effectiveness has been limited to local and regional-scale studies, whose conclusions may depend heavily on site-specific conditions. To overcome this limitation, a meta-analysis approach was applied to investigations of post-wildfire soil erosion mitigation treatments published in peer-reviewed journals.

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Ecology, history, ecohydrology, and management of pinyon and juniper woodlands in the Great Basin

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This synthesis reviews current knowledge of pinyon and juniper ecosystems, in both persistent and newly expanded woodlands, for managers, researchers, and the interested public. We draw from a large volume of research papers to centralize information on these semiarid woodlands. The first section includes a general description of both the Great Basin and northern Colorado Plateau. The ecology section covers woodland and species life histories, biology, and ecology and includes a detailed discussion of climate and the potential consequences of climate change specific to the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. The history section discusses 20,000 years of woodland dynamics and geographic differences among woodland disturbance regimes and resilience. The ecohydrology section discusses hydrologic processes in woodlands that influence soil conservation and loss; water capture, storage, and release; and the effect that woodland structure and composition have on these processes. The final section, restoration and management, covers the history of woodland management, the different methods used, the advantages and disadvantages of different vegetation treatments, and posttreatment vegetation responses. We also discuss successes and failures and key components that determine project outcomes important for consideration when restoring ecosystem function, integrity, and resilience.

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From checkers to chess: Social science lessons to advance wildfire adaptation processes

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Synthesis of existing science indicates that efforts to promote wildfire adaptation should be tailored to the unique social circumstances that affect broader landscapes. Approaching tailored adaptation to wildfire requires a series of considerations that help assess social diversity, better conceive of opportunities for community development that span landscapes, and evaluate how efforts at various scales (e.g., local, regional, state) enable or constrain the development of best practices. The overarching analogy provided in this article helps cut across divergent concepts to articulate existing approaches and concepts that can help achieve the above goals.

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Measuring the economic health cost of wildfires- A review

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There has been an increasing interest in the economic health cost from smoke exposure from wildfires in the past 20 years, particularly in the north-western USA that is reflected in an emergent literature. In this review, we provide an overview and discussion of studies since 2006 on the health impacts of wildfire smoke and of approaches for the estimation of the associated economic cost. We focus on the choice of key variables such as cost estimators for determining the economic impact of mortality and morbidity effects. In addition, we provide an in-depth discussion and guidance on the functioning, advantages and challenges of BenMAP-CE, freely available software of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that has been used in a growing number of studies to assess cost from wildfire smoke. We highlight what generates differences in outcomes between relevant studies and make suggestions for increasing the comparability between studies. All studies, however, demonstrate highly significant health cost from smoke exposure, in the millions or billions of US dollars, often driven by increases in mortality. The results indicate the need to take health cost into account for a comprehensive analysis of wildfire impacts.

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