Study results suggest increasing the frequency of disturbances (a lower disturbance return interval) would reduce the percentage of high-severity fire on landscape but not the total amount of wildfire in general. However, a higher DRI reduced carbon storage and sequestration, particularly in management strategies that emphasized prescribed fire over hand or mechanical fuel treatments.
Reports from the early 1900s, along with paleo- and dendro-ecological records, indicate similar and potentially even larger wildfires over the past millennium, many of which shared similar seasonality (late August/early September), weather conditions, and even geographic locations. Consistent with the largest historical fires, strong east winds and anomalously dry conditions drove the rapid spread of high-severity wildfire in 2020. We found minimal difference in burn severity among stand structural types related to previous management in the 2020 fires. Adaptation strategies for similar fires in the future could benefit by focusing on ignition prevention, fire suppression, and community preparedness, as opposed to fuel treatments that are unlikely to mitigate fire severity during extreme weather. While scientific uncertainties remain regarding the nature of infrequent, high-severity fires in westside forests, particularly under climate change, adapting to their future occurrence will require different strategies than those in interior, dry forests.
This study used a coupled ecohydrologic and fire regime model to examine how climate change and CO2 scenarios influence fire regimes. In this semiarid watershed, we found an increase in burned area and burn probability in the mid-21st century (2040s) as the CO2 fertilization effect on vegetation productivity outstripped the effects of climate change-induced fuel decreases, resulting in greater fuel loading. However, by the late-21st century (2070s), climatic warming dominated over CO2 fertilization, thus reducing fuel loading and burned area. Fire regimes were shown to shift from flammability- to fuel-limited or become increasingly fuel-limited in response to climate change. We identified a metric to identify when fire regimes shift from flammability- to fuel-limited: the ratio of the change in fuel loading to the change in its aridity. The threshold value for which this metric indicates a flammability versus fuel-limited regime differed between grasses and woody species but remained stationary over time. Our results suggest that identifying these thresholds in other systems requires narrowing uncertainty in exogenous drivers, such as future precipitation patterns and CO2 effects on vegetation.
2020 California fire season: A year like no other, a return to the past, or harbinger of the future?
The 2020 fires were part of an accelerating decades-long trend of increasing burned area, fire size, fire severity and socio-ecological costs in California. In fire-prone forests, the management emphasis on reducing burned area should be replaced by a focus on reducing the severity of burning and restoring key ecosystem functions after fire. There have been positive developments in California vis-à-vis collaborative action and increased pace and scale of fuel management and pre- and postfire restoration, but the warming climate and other factors are rapidly constraining our options.
Study results suggest increasing the frequency of disturbances (a lower disturbance return interval [DRI]) would reduce the percentage of high-severity fire on landscape but not the total amount of wildfire in general. However, a higher DRI reduced carbon storage and sequestration, particularly in management strategies that emphasized prescribed fire over hand or mechanical fuel treatments.
Presented by: Dan Neary
Wildfires can produce significant hydrological and ecological impacts on forest, woodland, and grassland ecosystems depending on fire size, severity, duration, timing, fuel loads, and weather conditions. In the past several decades, wildfire conditions have changed from previous ones in the 20th Century. Wildfires are now burning larger areas in hotter, windier, and drier weather. In addition, the timeframe for these fires has expanded by four months in some regions to 12 months in fire-prone states like California. These large fires, known as megafires (greater than 40,000 acres) are burning more wildland areas every year. Some reach the giga-fire classification (405,000+ acres) with increasing frequency. These trends are contributing to increased desertification of forest lands. This presentation examines the role of these large fires in producing desertification of wildland ecosystems.
In this deep dive webinar, Dr. Becky Kerns and collaborating scientists will present and synthesize results from a Joint Fire Science funded project aimed at understanding the current and future Ventenata dubia (ventenata) invasion in the Blue Mountains Ecoregion. Wildfires in 2014 and 2015 in the ecoregion reportedly spread in an unusual fashion owing to this invasive annual grass. Concern was raised that ventenata might be a “game-changer” for wildfire. Results from our studies show that ventenata has ecosystem transformation potential and influences landscape-scale fire across the ecoregion. In this webinar we report these findings and the management implications, as well as place our results in the context of other plant invasion research. The webinar includes 90 minutes of scientific presentations with short Q&A, and ends with a 30-minute wrap up and panel discussion. Talks will adhere to the following agenda to allow attendees to join and leave the meeting for specific talks, if desired.
Description: Changing wildfire regimes are causing rapid shifts in forests worldwide. In particular, forested landscapes that burn repeatedly in relatively quick succession may be at risk of conversion when pre-fire vegetation cannot recover between fires. Fire refugia (areas that burn less frequently or severely than the surrounding landscape) support post-fire ecosystem recovery and the persistence of vulnerable species in fire-prone landscapes. Observed and projected fire-induced forest losses highlight the need to understand where and why forests persist in refugia through multiple fires. This research need is particularly acute in the Klamath-Siskiyou ecoregion of southwest Oregon and northwest California, USA, where expected increases in fire activity and climate warming may result in the loss of up to one-third of the region’s conifer forests, which are the most diverse in western North America. We model the key controls on fire refugia occurrence and persistence through one, two, and three fire events over a 32-year period. Refugia that persisted through three fire events appeared to be partially entrained by landscape features that offered protection from fire, suggesting that topographic variability may be an important stabilizing factor as forests pass through successive fire filters. Results from this study could inform management strategies designed to protect fire-resistant portions of biologically and topographically diverse landscapes.
Presenter: Meg Krawchuk, Oregon State University
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.
Our study area in northeastern California on the Lassen, Modoc and Plumas National Forests has experienced recent large mixed-severity wildfires where aspen was present, providing an opportunity to study the re-introduction of fire. We observed two time periods; a 52-year absence of fire from 1941 to 1993 preceding a 24-year period of wildfire activity from 1993 to 2017. We utilized aerial photos and satellite imagery to delineate aspen stands and assess conifer cover percent. We chose aspen stands in areas where wildfires overlapped (twice-burned), where only a single wildfire burned, and areas that did not burn within the recent 24-year period. We observed these same stands within the first period of fire exclusion for comparison (i.e., 1941–1993). In the absence of fire, all aspen stand areas declined and all stands experienced increases in conifer composition. After wildfire, stands that burned experienced a release from conifer competition and increased in stand area. Stands that burned twice or at high severity experienced a larger removal of conifer competition than stands that burned once at low severity, promoting expansion of aspen stand area. Stands with less edge:area ratio also expanded in area more with fire present. Across both time periods, stand movement, where aspen stand footprints were mostly in new areas compared to footprints of previous years, was highest in smaller stands. In the fire exclusion period, smaller stands exhibited greater loss of area and changes in location (movement) than in the return of fire period, highlighting their vulnerability to loss via succession to conifers in the absence of disturbances that provide adequate growing space for aspen over time.