Climate & Fire & Adaptation

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2021 Rangeland Fall Forum: From Drought to Resilience

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This year’s Forum focused on drought impacts for Idaho rangelands and strategies for moving landscapes and communities towards resilience. A diverse group of panelists and speakers presented on the economic, social, and ecological implications of drought, as well as solutions.

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USFS Science X Climate Change Webinar Series

Webinar recordings.

Monday, October 25: Assessing our Future Forests
Resources Planning Act (RPA) Assessment: informing forest and grassland management, planning, and regional assessment, presented by Jennifer Costanza
Vulnerability assessment tools for setting priorities and identifying management targets, presented by Megan Friggens
Identifying climate change vulnerabilities and adaptation options for western U.S. national forests, presented by Jessica Halofsky and David L. Peterson

Tuesday, October 26: Adapting to Future Conditions
The Wildlife Adaptation Menu: a new tool for wildlife managers, presented by Stephen Handler
Climate adaptive silviculture in an urban floodplain forest, presented by Leslie Brandt
The role of climate and landscape change context in shaping forest dynamics, presented by Kristen Emmett

Wednesday, October 27: Modeling Tools for Management
Vegetation shifts with climate change: Applying the MC2 model, presented by John Kim
Incorporating future forest dynamics under climate change into landscape restoration planning: An application to the Central Sierras, presented by Nick Povak, Patricia Manley, Kristen Wilson
TACCIMO/FAMOUS – Connecting forest planning and operation with climate change challenges in the 21st Century, presented by Kelsey Bakken

Thursday, October 28: Management and Planning Tools
Web-based tools for determining seed sources for reforestation and restoration for current and future climates, presented by Brad St. Clair
The California seed zone map and post-fire reforestation in a warmer future, presented by Jessica Wright
PhenoMap: Providing timely rangeland vegetation assessments in a changing climate, presented by Jacqueline Ott, Charlie Schrader-Patton, Nancy Grulke

Friday, October 29: Shifting Life
Desired regeneration through assisted migration, presented by Dustin Bronson
Projected changes to an Arizona Sky Island are a harbinger of climate-fire effects on other western forests, presented by Kit O’Connor
Silvicultural strategies to improve post-fire reforestation success under climate change, presented by Chris Looney

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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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Risky development: Increasing exposure to natural hazards in the US

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Our results show that 57% of structures (homes, schools, hospitals, office buildings, etc.) are located in hazard hotspots, which represent only a third of CONUS area, and ∼1.5 million buildings lie in hotspots for two or more hazards. These critical levels of exposure are the legacy of decades of sustained growth and point to our inability, lack of knowledge, or unwillingness to limit development in hazardous zones. Development in these areas is still growing more rapidly than the baseline rates for the nation, portending larger future losses even if the effects of climate change are not considered.

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How vulnerable are states to wildfire: A livelihood assessment

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We produce a framework needed to compute the livelihood vulnerability index (LVI) for the top 14 American States that are most exposed to wildfires, based on the 2019 Wildfire Risk report of the acreage size burnt in 2018 and 2019: Arizona, California, Florida, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming. The LVI is computed for each State by first considering the State’s exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity to wildfire events (known as the three contributing factors). These contributing factors are determined by a set of indictor variables (vulnerability metrics) that are categorized into corresponding major component groups. The framework structure is then justified by performing a principal component analysis (PCA) to ensure that each selected indicator variable corresponds to the correct contributing factor. The LVI for each State is then calculated based on a set of algorithms relating to our framework. LVI values rank between 0 (low LVI) to 1 (high LVI). Our results indicate that Arizona and New Mexico experience the greatest livelihood vulnerability, with an LVI of 0.57 and 0.55, respectively. In contrast, California, Florida, and Texas experience the least livelihood vulnerability to wildfires (0.44, 0.35, 0.33 respectively). LVI is strongly weighted on its contributing factors and is exemplified by the fact that even though California has one of the highest exposures and sensitivity to wildfires, it has very high adaptive capacity measures in place to withstand its livelihood vulnerability. Thus, States with relatively high wildfire exposure can exhibit relatively lower livelihood vulnerability because of adaptive capacity measures in place.

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Wildfire in the western US: Causes, consequences, and adaptation

Webinar recording.

Description: A panel of experts will discuss why wildfires are on the rise, the role of climate change, the predicted fate of future forests, and ways that at-risk communities can adapt. Large fires are becoming more frequent and severe across the western US. Since 1984, annual burned forest area has increased by about 1,100%. Lives, property, and livelihoods are routinely threatened and burned landscapes can be left ecologically transformed. What is causing recent trends in fire activity? What will forests of the future look like? How can modeling wildfires and forest response guide adaptation strategies? These are among the questions to be explored. Panelists will also discuss the importance of tailoring fire and forest management to the local context, considering regionally specific factors like forest type, environmental conditions, and the presence of people.

Panelists: Forest ecologist Winslow Hansen (Cary Institute), Fire ecologist Phil Higuera (University of Montana), and Natural resource sociologist Catrin Edgeley (Northern Arizona University).

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Warming enabled upslope advance in western US forest fires

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Here, we focus on the elevational distribution of forest fires in mountainous ecoregions of the western United States and show the largest increase rates in burned area above 2,500 m during 1984 to 2017. Furthermore, we how that high-elevation fires advanced upslope with a median cumulative change of 252 m (−107 to 656 m; 95% CI) in 34 y across studied ecoregions. We also document a strong interannual relationship between high-elevation fires and warm season vapor pressure deficit (VPD). The upslope advance of fires is consistent with observed warming reflected by a median upslope drift of VPD isolines of 295 m (59 to 704 m; 95% CI) during 1984 to 2017. These findings allow us to estimate that recent climate trends reduced the high-elevation flammability barrier and enabled fires in an additional 11% of western forests. Limited influences of fire management practices and longer fire-return intervals in these montane mesic systems suggest these changes are largely a byproduct of climate warming. Further weakening in the high-elevation flammability barrier with continued warming has the potential to transform montane fire regimes with numerous implications for ecosystems and watersheds.

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Wildfire, Weather, Water, Weeds, Wildlife Symposium

Symposium resources.

This Symposium:

  • Examined agency/utility wildfire safety, mitigation measures and resiliency planning for future fire weather
  • Promoted learning about research focused on wildfire effects on water quality (sediment, contaminants) and water supply in our region and how we can improve our practices
  • Discussed how forests, shrublands and rivers are recovering or being impacted by invasive plants and biodiversity loss
  • Promoted understand how state and local agencies are preparing and responding to increased threat of wildfire
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Wildfire and climate change adaptation of western US forests: A case for intentional management

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Hagmann et al. (in press) review a century of observations and multi-scale, multi-proxy research evidence that details widespread changes in forested landscapes and wildfire regimes since the influx of European colonists. Over the preceding 10 millennia, large areas of wNA were already settled and proactively managed with intentional burning by Indigenous tribes. Prichard et al. (in press) then review the research on management practices historically applied by Indigenous tribes and currently applied by some managers to intentionally manage forests for resilient conditions. They address ten questions surrounding the application and relevance of these management practices. Here, we highlight the main findings of both papers and offer recommendations for management. We discuss progress paralysis that often occurs with strict adherence to the precautionary principle; offer insights for dealing with the common problem of irreducible uncertainty and suggestions for reframing management and policy direction; and identify key knowledge gaps and research needs.

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Fire and Climate: Impacts, Issues, and Futures

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Fire and Climate 2022 will bring attention to one of the most important forces shaping wildfire and better prepare how we can focus and respond to this formidable challenge in the new decade. This conference will feature insights, case studies, innovations and opinions from around the world to begin to form a collective, global approach to the wildfire challenge. California has been at the forefront of innovation in wildland fire management and holding a conference in California to fully leverage the lessons learned and adaptive behaviors that will continue to emerge after the Camp Fire will benefit the entire international wildland fire community.

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