Synthesis / Tech Report
Research on social aspects of wildfire in the southwestern USA has continued to diversify and broaden in scope over time, but some foundational lines of inquiry (such as public support for prescribed fire) have become outdated while other areas of study (such as fire prevention) have not been explored at all. Opportunities to advance wildfire social science efforts in the Southwest are abundant and well positioned to inform social understandings in other regions and countries.
In the face of this national challenge, Congress took bipartisan action to establish the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission through the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The legislation charged the 50-member Commission with the ambitious task of creating policy recommendations to address nearly every facet of the wildfire crisis, including mitigation, management, and postfire rehabilitation and recovery. Recognizing the urgency of the crisis, the Commission was given just a single year to conduct a sweeping review of the wildfire system and produce a comprehensive set of policy priorities.
We found that there were large proportions of non-significant responses among all categories combined, with roughly half or more of all responses non-significant (48 percent for wildlife, 60 percent for vegetation-environmental), comparable to other recent systematic reviews of pinyon-juniper treatment effects. However, we also found that when there were significant responses, some important trends potentially emerged. Important undesirable outcomes included far more positive than negative responses of exotic grass and forb abundance among nearly all treatment types. Cutting treatments were also more likely to decrease biocrust cover and microbial activity. Potentially beneficial outcomes included mostly positive responses among sagebrush obligate species, including more positive than negative responses for mule deer and sage-grouse. Some treatment types (for example, mastication) also resulted in more positive than negative responses for native grasses and forbs (although, non-significant responses were the majority). We also highlighted many limitations of this review, including how responses often come from few studies, and how some response-treatment category combinations lack adequate response data. Moreover, the existing research is often insufficient to address many key questions about treatment effects, largely owing to short time-scales and limited spatial extents of observations, which do not match the size of treatments being implemented by land managers, nor capture long-term, post-treatment ecological dynamics. We also identify a lack of research that addresses key interactions that could undermine restoration objectives, including potential effects of climate change and grazing on post-treatment environments. Thus, we emphasize the importance of integrating these factors into future pinyon-juniper treatment research, and we stress the need for use of monitoring programs and research studies that partake in data collection and analysis over long durations and broad spatial scales.
The 2020 Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment summarizes findings about the status, trends, and projected future of the Nation’s forests and rangelands and the renewable resources that they provide. The 2020 RPA Assessment specifically focuses on the effects of both socioeconomic and climatic change on the U.S. land base, disturbance, forests, forest product markets, rangelands, water, biodiversity, and outdoor recreation. Differing assumptions about population and economic growth, land use change, and global climate change from 2020 to 2070 largely influence the outlook for U.S. renewable resources. Many of the key themes from the 2010 RPA Assessment cycle remain relevant, although new data and technologies allow for deeper and wider investigation. Land development will continue to threaten the integrity of forest and rangeland ecosystems. In addition, the combination and interaction of socioeconomic change, climate change, and the associated shifts in disturbances will strain natural resources and lead to increasing management and resource allocation challenges. At the same time, land management and adoption of conservation measures can reduce pressure on natural resources. The RPA Assessment findings and associated data can be useful to resource managers and policymakers as they develop strategies to sustain natural resources.
We synthesized restoration techniques and their effectiveness in the Mojave and western Sonoran Desert, provide estimated costs of candidate techniques, and anticipate future research needs for effective restoration in changing climates and environments. Over 50 published studies in the Mojave and western Sonoran Desert demonstrate that restoration can improve soil features (e.g., biocrusts), increase cover of native perennial and annual plants, enhance native seed retention and seed banks, and reduce risk of fires to conserve mature shrubland habitat. We placed restoration techniques into three categories: restoration of site environments, revegetation, and management actions to limit further disturbance and encourage recovery. Within these categories, 11 major restoration techniques (and their variations) were evaluated by at least one published study and range from geomorphic (e.g., reestablishing natural topographic patterns) and abiotic structural treatments (e.g., vertical mulching) to active revegetation (e.g., outplanting, seeding).
Our systematic review returned a sample of 222 publications that met these criteria, with an increase in wilderness fire science over time. Studies largely occurred in the USA and were concentrated in a relatively small number of protected areas, particularly in the Northern Rocky Mountains. As a result, this sample of wilderness fire science is highly skewed toward areas of temperate mixed-conifer forests and historical mixed-severity fire regimes. Common principal subjects of publications included fire effects (44%), wilderness fire management (18%), or fire regimes (17%), and studies tended to focus on vegetation, disturbance, or wilderness management as response variables.
This paper provides a synthesis of the key laboratory- and field-based observational studies focused on wildland fire and atmospheric turbulence connections that have been conducted from the early 1900s through 2021. Included in the synthesis are reports of anecdotal turbulence observations, direct measurements of ambient and fire-induced turbulent flow in laboratory and wildland environments, and remote sensing measurements of fire-induced turbulent plume dynamics. Although considerable progress has been made in advancing our understanding of the connections between atmospheric turbulence and wildland fire behavior and smoke dispersion, gaps in that understanding still exist and are discussed to conclude the synthesis.
Based on the existing literature, significant policy, regulatory, physical, and social barriers impede the use of managed wildfire. For fire managers, use of this strategy requires a complex decision-making process that includes consideration of institutional influences, operational considerations, fire outcomes, fire environment, perceived risk, and sociopolitical context. Some new treatment and response planning tools, such as Potential Operational Delineations (PODs), may facilitate greater use by easing some of these barriers and concerns. The scale of the wildfire challenge across the country suggests that, in the future, managed wildfire will play an essential role in managing fuels, reducing burn severity, enhancing suppression effectiveness, fostering forest resilience, and improving human’s ability to coexist with fire.
This study focused on alternative perspectives of successful fuel break use and the impact of fuel break configurations and management actions on fire risk across a given landscape. This was accomplished using a variety of methods. We used a survey of wildland fire management personnel to gather information on perceptions of fuel break effectiveness, data on fuel break use, and locations of the fuel breaks in question. Input was sought from
managers for fuel breaks throughout California. Managers who were responsible for a specific fuel break or were familiar with suppression operations on a fuel break were eligible to take this survey.
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The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy has been officially updated.
New critical emphasis areas include:
-Workforce capacity, health, and wellbeing
-Diversity, equity, inclusion, and environmental justice