Synthesis / Tech Report
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.
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.
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.
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.
This paper examines the effect of fire on small mammals and evaluate the relative sensitivity to fire among different groups using a systematic review methodology that included critiquing the literature with respect to survey design and statistical analysis. Overall, small mammal abundance is slightly higher, and demographic parameters more favourable, in unburnt sites compared to burnt sites. This was more pronounced in species with body size range of 101–1000 g and with habitat requirements that are sensitive to fire (e.g. dense ground cover): in 66.6 and 69.7% of pairwise comparisons, abundance or a demographic parameter were higher in unburnt than burnt sites. This systematic review demonstrates that there remains a continued focus on simple shifts in abundance with regards to effect of fire and small mammals, which limits understanding of mechanisms responsible for change. Body size and habitat preference were most important in explaining variation in small mammal species’ responses to fire.
Characterising the impacts of wildland fire and fire suppression is critical information for fire management decision-making. Here, we focus on decisions related to the rare larger and longer-duration fire events, where the scope and scale of decision-making can be far broader than initial response efforts, and where determining and demonstrating efficiency of strategies and actions can be particularly troublesome. We organize our review around key decision factors such as context, complexity, alternatives, consequences and uncertainty, and for illustration contrast fire management in Andalusia, Spain, and Montana, USA. Two of the largest knowledge gaps relate to quantifying fire impacts to ecosystem services, and modelling relationships between fire management activities and avoided damages. The relative magnitude of these and other concerns varies with the complexity of the socioecological context in which fire management decisions are made. To conclude our review, we examine topics for future research, including expanded use of the economics toolkit to better characterize the productivity and effectiveness of suppression actions, integration of ecosystem modelling with economic principles, and stronger adoption of risk and decision analysis within fire management decision-making.
This report assesses recent forest disturbance in the Western United States and discusses implications for sustainability. Individual chapters focus on fire, drought, insects, disease, invasive plants, and socioeconomic impacts. Disturbance data came from a variety of sources, including the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, Forest Health Protection, and the National Interagency Fire Center. Disturbance trends with the potential to affect forest sustainability include alterations in fire regimes, periods of drought in some parts of the region, and increases in invasive plants, insects, and disease. Climate affects most disturbance processes, particularly drought, fire, and biotic disturbances, and climate change is expected to continue to affect disturbance processes in various ways and degrees.
Ecological Site Descriptions (ESD) synthesize information concerning soils, hydrology, ecology, and management into a user-friendly document. A crucial component of an ESD is the state-and-transition model (STM) that identifies the different vegetation states, describes the disturbances that caused vegetation change, and suggests restoration activities needed to restore plant communities. State-and-transition models are powerful tools that utilize professional knowledge, data, and literature to describe the resistance and resilience of an ecological site. The STM then captures various disturbances, triggers leading to ecological thresholds, feedback mechanisms maintaining ecological states, and the restoration techniques required for moving from one ecological state to another (Briske et al. 2008, Stringham et al. 2003).
Incorporating spatial and temporal scales into greater sage-grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) population monitoring strategies is challenging and rarely implemented. Sage-grouse populations experience fluctuations in abundance that lead to temporal oscillations, making trend estimation difficult. Accounting for stochasticity is critical to reliably estimate population trends and investigate variation related to deterministic factors on the landscape, which are amenable to management action. Here, we describe a novel, range-wide hierarchical monitoring framework for sage-grouse centered on four objectives: (1) create a standardized database of lek counts, (2) develop spatial population structures by clustering leks, (3) estimate spatial trends at different temporal extents based on abundance nadirs (troughs), and (4) develop a targeted annual warning system to help inform management decisions. Using automated and repeatable methods (software), we compiled a lek database (as of 2019) that contained 262,744 counts and 8,421 unique lek locations from disparate state data. The hierarchical population units (clusters) included 13 nested levels, identifying biologically relevant units and population structure that minimized inter-cluster sage-grouse movements. With these products, we identified spatiotemporal variation in trends in population abundance using Bayesian state-space models. We estimated 37.0, 65.2, and 80.7-percent declines in abundance range-wide during short (17 years), medium (33 years), and long (53 years) temporal scales, respectively. However, some areas exhibited evidence of increasing trends in abundance in recent decades. Models predicted 12.3, 19.2, and 29.6 percent of populations (defined as clusters of neighboring leks) consisted of over 50-percent probability of extirpation at 19, 38, and 56-year projections from 2019, respectively, based on averaged annual rate of change in apparent abundance across two, four, and six oscillations (average period of oscillation is 9.4 years). At the lek level, models predicted 45.7, 60.1, and 78.0 percent of leks with over 50-percent extirpation probabilities over the same time periods, respectively, mostly located on the periphery of the species’ range. The targeted annual warning system automates annual identification of local populations exhibiting asynchronous decline relative to regional population patterns using simulated management actions and an optimization algorithm for evaluating range-wide stabilization of population abundance. In 2019, approximately 3.2 percent of leks and 2.0 percent of populations were identified by the targeted annual warning system for management intervention range-wide.
There are thousands of abandoned mine land (AML) sites in the U.S. that need to be restored to reduce wind and water erosion, provide wildlife forage, shade streams, and improve productivity. Biochar created from woody biomass that would normally be burned in slash piles can be applied to soil to improve soil properties and is one method to restore AML soil productive capacity. Using this ‘waste’ biomass for biochar and reclamation activities will reduce wildfire risk, air pollution from burning, and particulates released from burning wood. Biochar has the potential to improve water quality, bind heavy metals, or decrease toxic chemical concentrations, while improving soil health to establish sustainable plant cover, thereby preventing soil erosion, leaching, or other unintended, negative environmental consequences. Using forest residues to create biochar also helps reduce woody biomass and improves forest health and resilience. We address concerns surrounding organic and inorganic contaminants on the biochar and how this might affect its’ efficacy and provide valuable information to increase restoration activities on AMLs using biochar alone or in combination with other organic amendments. Several examples of AML biochar restoration sites initiated to evaluate short- and long-term above- and belowground ecosystem responses are presented.