Fire History

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Fire in the western US – Featured in LANDFIRE office hour

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Title: Fire in the Western U.S.: Big fires. Big challenges. Big need for regional learning & action.

Blurb: Learn about the diverse inputs and outcomes from six large fires spanning five JFSP Regional Fire Science Exchanges. Join the LANDFIRE office hour at 3/29 at 10:00 PDT/11:00 MDT.

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Short-interval high-severity reburns change the playing field for forest recovery

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Reburns, sequential overlapping fires occurring in an unusually short timeframe, are expected to become more common and widespread with increases in fire-conducive weather. The context for reburns varies by ecosystem; in subalpine forests of the Northern Rockies, high-severity fires separated by less than 30 years are considered reburns. Join researchers Kristin Braziunas (Technical University of Munich, Germany) and Tyler Hoecker (Northwest Climate Adaptation Science Center) as they discuss recent studies in the Greater Yellowstone and Glacier National Park looking at post-fire recovery after short-interval reburns.

Short-interval high-severity reburns that are outside the historical range of variability of a system can erode the resilience of subalpine forests by undermining fire-adaptive traits and changing the microclimate that affects tree seedling establishment. These reburns diminish tree regeneration but could also lessen subsequent burn severity. Short-interval fire could lead to rapid, surprising changes in forest resilience during the 21st century.

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Fire history and ecology

Webinar recordings of the Forest Service’s Research and Development SCIENCEx FIRE week.

Fire History and Ecology

Introduction to SCIENCEx Fire Week​ | Jens Stevens
​Indigenous Fire Stewardship and Cultural Burning​ | Frank Lake
​Fire Exclusion and Western Forest Change​ | Eric Knapp
A History of Fire in the Eastern US: ​How Humans Modified Fire Regimes through the Holocene​ | Dan Dey

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Contemporary (1984-2020) fire history metrics for the conterminous US and ecoregional differences by land ownership

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This study calculated fire history metrics from the Landsat Burned Area Product (1984–2020) across the conterminous U.S. (CONUS) including (1) fire frequency, (2) time since last burn (TSLB), (3) year of last burn, (4) longest fire-free interval, (5) average fire interval length, and (6) contemporary fire return interval (cFRI).

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Biogeographical patterns of fire characteristics across the contiguous US

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Human-dominated pyromes (85% mean anthropogenic ignitions), with moderate fire size, area burned, and intensity, covered 59% of CONUS, primarily in the East and East Central. Physically dominated pyromes (47% mean anthropogenic ignitions) characterized by relatively large (average 439 mean annual ha per 50 km pixel) and intense (average 75 mean annual megawatts/pixel) fires occurred in 14% of CONUS, primarily in the West and West Central. The percent of anthropogenic ignitions increased over time in all pyromes (0.5–1.7% annually). Higher fire frequency was related to smaller events and lower FRP, and these relationships were moderated by vegetation, climate, and ignition type. Notably, a spatial mismatch between our derived modern pyromes and both ecoregions and historical fire regimes suggests other major drivers for modern U.S. fire patterns than vegetation-based classification systems. This effort to delineate modern U.S. pyromes based on fire observations provides a national-scale framework of contemporary fire regions and may help elucidate patterns of change in an uncertain future.

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Wildland Fire Trends Tool

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The Wildland Fire Trends Tool (WFTT) is a data visualization and analysis tool that calculates and displays wildfire trends and patterns for the western U.S. based on user-defined regions of interest, time periods, and ecosystem types. Users can use the tool to easily generate a variety of maps, graphs, and tabular data products that are informative for all levels of expertise. The WFTT provides information that can be used for a wide range of purposes, from helping to set agency fire management objectives to providing useful information to scientists, interested public, and the media.

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MTBS Viewer: 20 yrs of data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity Program

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Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) includes all fires 1000 acres or greater in the west and 500 acres or greater in the east. The extent of coverage includes the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. MTBS data are freely available to the public.

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Congressional Budget Office analyzes trends in wildfire activity over the last 30 years

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The average annual acreage burned by wildfires in the United States has increased over the past 30 years, affecting both federal and nonfederal lands. In this report, the Congressional Budget Office analyzes trends in wildfire activity; considers the effects of wildfires on the federal budget, the environment, people’s health, and the economy; and reviews forest-management practices meant to reduce the likelihood and seriousness of fire-related disasters.

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Introducing the North American tree-ring fire-scar network

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Description: A recent collaboration by ~90 tree-ring and fire-scar scientists has resulted in the publication of the newly compiled North American Tree-Ring Fire-Scar Network* (NAFSN), which contains 2,562 sites, > 37,000 fire-scarred trees, and covers large parts of North America. In this publication, authors investigate the NAFSN in terms of geography, sample depth, vegetation, topography, climate, and human land use.

In this webinar presenters will present major findings from the publication, demonstrate data accessibility, highlight management applications, and discuss future steps planned for the NAFSN.

Presenter: Ellis Margolis, Research Ecologist, USGS Fort Collins Science Center and Dr. Christopher Guiterman, Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES) University of Colorado at Boulder, and NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

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Fire and humans in resilient ecosystems of the American SW

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Description: In the southwestern US humans and ecosystems share a history of fire. Here, contemporary ecological patterns and processes that are thought to be natural may be highly influenced by past human land use legacies, at millennial time scales. The Jemez Mountains of central New Mexico provide a landscape laboratory rich in archaeological, ethnographic, and ecological data sets, within which to study the reciprocal, long-term interactions of humans and fire. Evidence from tree-rings, fire scars, and charcoal sediments suggests that prior to the 20th century, southwestern pine forests sustained frequent, low-severity surface fires. During a period of dense occupation in the 13th and 14th centuries, land and resource use may have significantly influenced forest structure, fuel properties, ignitions, and landscape fire dynamics. We developed complex spatial models, informed by rich archaeological, ethnographic, and dendroarchaeological data sets, to examine how plausible scenarios of human activities influenced forests and fire regimes ca. 1200-1900 CE. We found that prehistoric populations influenced forest and fire patterns at broad spatial scales, with feedbacks that maintained ecological resilience. Our results highlight the complexity and extent of long-term human-environment interactions and can be used as a comparative framework within which to evaluate the significance of contemporary and predicted anthropogenic impacts on landscapes and ecosystems.

Presenter: Rachel Loehman is a landscape and fire ecologist with the US Geological Survey. Her research focuses on the role of natural and anthropogenic disturbances in shaping ecological patterns and processes. Her current research projects include developing strategies for enhancing ecosystem and forest resilience to changing climate and disturbance regimes (western U.S.) and monitoring and modeling fire impacts to archaeological resources (southwestern U.S.).

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