Post-fire Environment & Management
Webinar join links and recordings.
The SCIENCE X webinar series brings together scientists and land management experts from across U.S. Forest Service research stations and beyond to explore the latest science and best practices for addressing large natural resource challenges across the country.
Across fires and NGOs, NGO management and wellbeing, coordination and disaster experiences emerge as common barriers and enablers of relief and recovery. In many cases, local NGOs’ participation in wildfire relief and recovery included simultaneous expansion of an organisation’s mission and activities and negative impacts on staff mental health. Under the rapidly evolving circumstances of relief and the prolonged burdens of recovery, personal relationships across NGOs and government agencies significantly improved coordination of assistance to communities. Finally, interviewees expressed greater confidence when responding to wildfires if they had previous experience with a disaster, although the COVID-19 pandemic presented distinct challenges on top of pre-existing long-term recovery work.
Wildfire can significantly alter the hydrologic response of a watershed to the extent that even modest rainstorms can produce dangerous flash floods and debris flows. The USGS conducts post-fire debris-flow hazard assessments for select fires in the Western U.S. We use geospatial data related to basin morphometry, burn severity, soil properties, and rainfall characteristics to estimate the probability and volume of debris flows that may occur in response to a design storm.
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Communities across the United States and the globe rely on clean water flowing from forested watersheds. But these water source areas are impacted by the effects of wildfire. To help water providers and land managers prepare for impacts from wildfire on water supplies, the U.S. Geological Survey is working to measure and predict post-fire water quality and quantity.
The increasing incidence of large wildfires with extensive stand-replacing effects across the southwestern United States is altering the contemporary forest management template within historically frequent-fire conifer forests. While management of fire-excluded forests continues to be a priority for land managers, an increasing fraction of western conifer forests have recently burned. Many of these burned landscapes contain complex mosaics of surviving forest and severely-burned patches without surviving or regenerating conifer trees. In such complex landscapes, postfire management decisions may be more effective when based on a spatially-explicit assessment of the mosaic of surviving forest and severely burned patches. Such a decision-making framework includes detailed considerations both for postfire fuels management, e.g., edge hardening of surviving forest patches and repeat burning, and for postfire reforestation, e.g., nucleation planting strategies to establish “islands” of seed trees, spatial planning to optimize reforestation success, tradeoffs between intensive and extensive tree planting, and improving nursery capacity. The decision-making framework developed here can be integrated with existing postfire management infrastructure to optimize allocation of limited resources while not abandoning recently burned landscapes, which will continue to expand in a future of increasing fire activity.
The 2010 Schultz Fire was ignited by an abandoned campfire on June 20 and burned 15,075 acres northeast of Flagstaff, Arizona. Following the fire, intense monsoon rains over the burned area produced flooding that resulted in extensive damage. In 2013, a full-cost accounting was conducted that estimated costs for the first three years of between $133 million and $147 million. This presentation will provide results from a 2021 study that re-evaluates those costs after ten years and provides unique insights into the long-term economic, ecological, and social effects of a major wildfire and post-fire flooding. We conservatively estimated that the total costs of the 2010 Schultz Fire for the period 2010–2021 was between $95.8 million and $100.7 million in 2021 dollars, including fire response and post-fire flooding response and mitigation, but excluding all losses and gains from assessed property values. This is a 30%–15% increase in the respective range of costs from 2013 — excluding 2013 property values.
A Special Section in the journal BioScience provides an in-depth exposition of the Resist-Accept-Direct framework, a new approach to guide natural resource decision making. Articles in the Special Section explore the practical application of the framework, compatibility of existing tools, social barriers and opportunities, and future science needs.
Based on our review of the scientific evidence, a range of proactive management actions are justified and necessary to keep pace with changing climatic and wildfire regimes and declining forest heterogeneity after severe wildfires. Science-based adaptation options include the use of managed wildfire, prescribed burning, and coupled mechanical thinning and prescribed burning as is consistent with land management allocations and forest conditions. Although some current models of fire management in wNA are averse to short-term risks and uncertainties, the long-term environmental, social, and cultural consequences of wildfire management primarily grounded in fire suppression are well documented, highlighting an urgency to invest in intentional forest management and restoration of active fire regimes.