Post-fire Environment & Management

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Sagebrush plant community responses 10 yrs after conifer removal

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This sageSTEP short features Beth Newingham.

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Detecting shrub recovery in sagebrush: Comparing Landsat with field data

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The need for basic information on spatial distribution and abundance of plant species for research and management in semiarid ecosystems is frequently unmet. This need is particularly acute in the large areas impacted by megafires in sagebrush steppe ecosystems, which require frequently updated information about increases in exotic annual invaders or recovery of desirable perennials. Remote sensing provides one avenue for obtaining this information. We considered how a vegetation model based on Landsat satellite imagery (30 m pixel resolution; annual images from 1985 to 2018) known as the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) “Back-in-Time” fractional component time-series, compared with field-based vegetation measurements. The comparisons focused on detection thresholds of post-fire emergence of fire-intolerant Artemisia L. species, primarily A. tridentata Nutt. (big sagebrush). Sagebrushes are scarce after fire and their paucity over vast burn areas creates challenges for detection by remote sensing. Measurements were made extensively across the Great Basin, USA, on eight burn scars encompassing ~500 000 ha with 80 plots sampled, and intensively on a single 113 000 ha burned area where we sampled 1454 plots.

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Identifying and protecting wildfire refugia in a warmer, drier PNW

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The researchers report on creating an unburned area data set for the Inland Northwest from 1984 – 2014 and subsequent analyses using this dataset. Here are some of the key findings for this JFSP project:

  • Unburned area occurrence is consistent or stabilized to-date, with no evidence of increasing or decreasing trends under current climate conditions
  • Unburned areas are utilized by sage grouse and help maintain viable populations when these fire refugia are present
  • Persistent unburned islands are ecologically important areas and are related to specific topography and fuel type characteristics
  • Persistent unburned area attributes differ between forests and rangelands
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Sagebrush ecosystem recovery 10+ years after treatments

Symposium recording

The Sagebrush Ecosystem Recovery symposium will provide Sagebrush Steppe Treatment Evaluation Project (SageSTEP) updates. It will be held in conjunction with the Society for Range Management Virtual Meeting. It will share what’s been learned after at least 10 years post-treatment. **You do not need to be registered for the SRM meeting to join.

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Bringing fire and postfire response into alignment

This webinar brings together a panel of postfire response experts to reflect on their experiences in addressing community needs during recent large fires. The discussion will highlight important differences in fire and postfire response on federal and non-federal lands, and a consideration of existing tools and policies and how they can be strengthened. Both the Western Forestry Leadership Coalition (WFLC) and Western Governors’ Association are developing policies to address the gaps. Mike Zupko, WFLC Coordinator will share progress to date then the panel will tackle topics including treatment effectiveness, liability, and cross jurisdictional impacts. Fire practitioners and line officers are encouraged to attend to help us bridge the knowledge gap between fire and postfire response.

Panelist and presenters:
• Anne Bradley, The Nature Conservancy in New Mexico
• Cara Farr, US Forest Service, National BAER Team Leader
• Micah Kiesow, US Forest Service, Santa Fe National Forest
• Katherine Rowden, National Weather Service/NOAA
• Rich Schwab, National Park Service, National BAER Team
• Mary Stuever, New Mexico State Forestry, Chama District Forester
• Mike Zupko, National Wildland Fire Leadership Council

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Dirt goes downhill: Are we making better post-wildfire erosion control treatment decisions?

Webinar recording.

Major concerns after wildfires are the increased runoff and erosion due to loss of the protective forest floor layer, loss of water storage, and creation of water repellent soil conditions. To reduce the potential postfire erosion and flooding, various postfire mitigation treatments are commonly used on highly erodible areas when downstream values-at-risk are high. We have developed numerous online soil erosion prediction tools to allow for better post-fire land management decision-making. We have validated our model predictions with field studies throughout the Western US that encompass a range of rainfall regimes including monsoonal rains in the southwest (Arizona and New Mexico), thunderstorms in the Colorado Front Range and Northern Rockies, and wet frontal systems in Southern California and various erosion control treatments. For example, mulch treatments (agricultural straw, wood strands, wood shreds) reduce erosion and can be effective even for the higher intensity rainfall events. Our research results have brought a major shift in post-wildfire assessment methods and erosion management strategies.

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Ecological drought: Drought, wildfire, and recovery

Webinar recording.

Drought can exacerbate wildfire frequency, intensity, and severity. This webinar explores wildfire management approaches based on ecological principles, including those that embed traditional ecological knowledge.

Presenters: Dr. Jeremy Littell, Research Ecologist, Alaska Climate Adaptation Science Center, USGS
Bill Tripp, Deputy Director of Eco-Cultural Revitalization, Department of Natural Resources, Karuk Tribe

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A climatic dipole drives short- and long-term patterns of postfire forest recovery in the western US

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Here, we identify a north–south dipole in annual climatic moisture deficit anomalies across the Interior West of the US and characterize its influence on forest recovery from fire. We use annually resolved establishment models from dendrochronological records to correlate this climatic dipole with short-term postfire juvenile recruitment. We also examine longer-term recovery trajectories using Forest Inventory and Analysis data from 989 burned plots. We show that annual postfire ponderosa pine recruitment probabilities in the northern Rocky Mountains (NR) and the southwestern US (SW) track the strength of the dipole, while declining overall due to increasing aridity. This indicates that divergent recovery trajectories may be triggered concurrently across large spatial scales: favorable conditions in the SW can correspond to drought in the NR that inhibits ponderosa pine establishment, and vice versa. The imprint of this climatic dipole is manifest for years postfire, as evidenced by dampened long-term likelihoods of juvenile ponderosa pine presence in areas that experienced postfire drought. These findings underscore the importance of climatic variability at multiple spatiotemporal scales in driving cross-regional patterns of forest recovery and have implications for understanding ecosystem transformations and species range dynamics under global change.

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Monetising the savings of remotely sensed data and information in Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER) wildfire assessment

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This study used a value of information approach to demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of using satellite imagery as part of the Burn Area Emergency Response (BAER), a US federal program that identifies imminent post-wildfire threats to human life and safety, property and critical natural or cultural resources. It compared the costs associated with producing a Burn Area Reflectance Classification map and implementing a BAER when imagery from satellites (either Landsat or a commercial satellite) was available to when the response team relied on information collected solely by aerial reconnaissance. The case study included two evaluations with and without Burn Area Reflectance Classification products: (a) savings of up to US$51 000 for the Elk Complex wildfire incident request and (b) savings of a multi-incident map production program. Landsat is the most cost-effective way to input burn severity information into the BAER program, with savings of up to US$35 million over a 5-year period.

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Linking diverse terminology to vegetation type-conversion

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Ecosystems worldwide are facing complex interacting stressors that are leading to rapid and potentially irreversible change. Many of these changes involve vegetation type-conversion in various stages and forms. A variety of terms are applied to changes in ecosystems around the world to describe some aspect of long-lasting changes in plant communities. Here we evaluate a representative list of analogous terms for processes and patterns involved in vegetation type-conversion, highlighting similarities and differences. The list illustrates a common problem in ecology, viz. how similar terminology may actually describe different aspects of complex processes. Linking this terminology under a unified, umbrella concept of vegetation type conversion and placing it into the context of an ecological resilience framework, including community reorganization, may help resolve research agendas and conservation efforts.

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