Post-fire Environment & Management

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SCIENCEx Webinar Series: Planning for forests and rangelands of the future

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Monday, May 15, SCIENCE x Planning for Forests of the Future: Resources Planning Act – Forest Resources and Disturbance
•    RPA Overview, presented by Claire O’Dea (recorded session)
•    Forest Resources, Current and Future, presented by John Coulston
•    Recent and future trends in disturbances to forests and rangelands across the conterminous U.S., presented by Jennifer Costanza

Tuesday, May 16, SCIENCE x Planning for Forests of the Future: Resources Planning Act – Forest Products and Water Resources
•    RPA Overview, presented by Claire O’Dea (recorded session)
•    Forest Products Markets, presented by Jeff Prestemon
•    Current and future projections of water use and supply in the United States, presented by Travis Warziniack

Wednesday, May 17 SCIENCE x Planning for Forests of the Future: Resources Planning Act – Rangeland Resources and Biodiversity
•    RPA Overview, presented by Claire O’Dea (recorded session)
•    The 2020 Rangeland Assessment, presented by Matt Reeves
•    Patterns and threats to biological diversity across the United States: Focusing on land use and climate change, presented by Becky Flitcroft

Thursday, May 18 SCIENCE x Planning for Forests of the Future: Resources Planning Act – Land Resources and Outdoor Recreation
•    RPA Overview, presented by Claire O’Dea (recorded session)
•    The past and future of land resources: foundations for the 2020 RPA Assessment, presented by Kurt Riitters
•    Outdoor recreation participation in in the U.S. in 2040 and 2070, presented by Eric White

Friday, May 19 SCIENCE x Planning for Forests of the Future: National Report on Sustainable Forests
•    USDA Forest Service National Reporting on Forest Sustainability: Observations and Program Overview, presented by Guy Robertson
•    Key Findings from the 2020 National Report on Sustainable Forests, presented by Lara Murray
•    The Montréal Process: a voluntary international agreement to measure, monitor and make progress on forest conservation and sustainable management, presented by Kathleen McGinley

Fire at Wildland Urban Interface

Public experiences and perceptions with wildfire and flooding, A case study of the 2019 Museum fire

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Description: The greater Flagstaff area in northern Arizona has experienced multiple wildfires in recent years that have resulted in post-wildfire flooding. These events galvanized collaborative efforts to reduce hazardous fuels on steep slopes and implement flood mitigation improvements around the city and in the municipal watershed. In this presentation, the 2019 Museum Fire provides a case study for better understanding how the cascading disturbances of wildfire and post-wildfire flooding, which can be further compounded by adjacent disturbances like monsoon-related flooding, impact the public and how residents are informed of, perceive, and respond to these risks. This webinar examines findings from two household surveys: one conducted in 2019 immediately following the Museum Fire, and a follow-up survey conducted in 2022 following flooding associated with the burn scar and monsoonal events. The research presented provides insights into public experiences with and perceptions of wildfires, post-wildfire flooding, and forest management more broadly over time, and offers suggestions for improving the exchange of information between and among agencies and the public to facilitate mutual understanding and enhance adaptive capacity for future wildfires and flood events.

Presenters: Melanie Colavito, PhD, Director of Policy and Communications, ERI at NAU; Niki vonHedemann, PhD, Senior Research Coordinator and Human Dimensions Specialist, ERI at NAU; and Catrin Edgeley, PhD, Assistant Professor, School of Forestry at NAU

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Reduced fire severity offers near-term buffer to climate-driven declines in conifer resilience across the western US

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Postfire regeneration is sensitive to high-severity fire, which limits seed availability, and postfire climate, which influences seedling establishment. In the near-term, projected differences in recruitment probability between low- and high-severity fire scenarios were larger than projected climate change impacts for most species, suggesting that reductions in fire severity, and resultant impacts on seed availability, could partially offset expected climate-driven declines in postfire regeneration. Across 40 to 42% of the study area, we project postfire conifer regeneration to be likely following low-severity but not high-severity fire under future climate scenarios (2031 to
2050). However, increasingly warm, dry climate conditions are projected to eventually outweigh the influence of fire severity and seed availability. The percent of the study area considered unlikely to experience conifer regeneration, regardless of fire severity, increased from 5% in 1981 to 2000 to 26 to 31% by mid-century, highlighting a limited time window over which management actions that reduce fire severity may effectively support
postfire conifer regeneration.

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Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop

Workshop website.

About the Workshop: Since 1975, the Natural Hazards Center has hosted the Annual Natural Hazards Research and Applications Workshop in Colorado. Today the Workshop brings together federal, state, and local mitigation and emergency management officials and planning professionals; representatives of nonprofit, private sector, and humanitarian organizations; hazards and disaster researchers; and others dedicated to alleviating the impacts of disasters. You can read more about the Workshop and its history on the Center’s website.

Workshop Information: Information about this year’s theme and opportunities to contribute can be found under the Workshop Info tab above. You can also browse our past Workshops to see previous programs, speakers, and other materials.

Please make sure and subscribe to Workshop updates so you can receive notifications regarding due dates and important announcements.

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Does post-fire recovery of native grasses across abiotic-stress and invasive-grass gradients match theoretical predictions, in sagebrush steppe?

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We evaluated how abiotic stress and biotic interactions determine native bunchgrass abundances across environmental gradients using additive models of cover data from over 500 plots re-measured annually for 5 years as they recovered naturally (untreated) after a megafire (>100,000 ha) in sagebrush steppe threated by the invasive-grass and fire cycle. The species included native bunchgrasses, bluebunch wheatgrass and Sandberg bluegrass, and the exotic and invasive annual cheatgrass. We asked whether associations between native bunchgrasses and cheatgrass were context dependent and if the SGH could help predict interspecific associations between species in a semiarid environment. The association of cover of each native bunchgrass to cheatgrass was not uniform, and instead varied from neutral to negative across environmental gradients in both space and time (i.e., weather), to which the species had nonlinear and sometimes threshold-like responses. Consistent with the SGH, bunchgrasses were generally more negatively related to cheatgrass (i.e., putative competition) in conditions which increased the cover of each bunchgrass – which were higher elevations and temperatures and lower solar heatload, and, for Sandberg bluegrass, drier conditions. There were few indications of positive interactions (i.e., putative facilitation) in stressful conditions, and instead associations were again negative, albeit weaker, in some of the conditions evaluated. Synthesis. These findings demonstrate that the negative association among native bunchgrasses and cheatgrass is context dependent and is determined by the abundances of both interacting species which is driven by environmental stress. This led to a hypothesis that together Sandberg bluegrass and bluebunch wheatgrass provide complementary resistance to cheatgrass at the landscape level, despite their different ecology and contrary to the management preference for bluebunch wheatgrass. Sandberg bluegrass might be critical for providing resistance against cheatgrass where invasion potential is greatest, i.e., at lower elevations, where bluebunch wheatgrass is scarce.

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FireEarth: Understanding what makes people vulnerable to wildfire

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This StoryMap is an overview of some of the work undertaken by FireEarth scientists, serving as an introduction to the project. FireEarth is not a standalone endeavor, as the work draws on past and concurrent efforts in the field of wildfire science, which are referenced when applicable.

The StoryMap is organized around 13 main sections: 1) About the FireEarth StoryMap, 2) An Introduction to Wildfire, 3) FireEarth’s Goal, 4) Cascading Consequences of Fire, 5) Erosion and Runoff, 6) Cascading Consequence: Fire Intensity Impacts, 7) Regional Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys), 8) Smoke and Air Pollution, 9) Reducing Our Vulnerabilities to Wildfire, 10) Community Adaptation to Fire, 11) Biomimicry: Copying Nature to Coexist with Fire, 12) Conclusion, and 13) All FireEarth-Supported Papers.

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Growing impact of wildfire on western US water supply

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Streamflow often increases after fire, but the persistence of this effect and its importance to present and future regional water resources are unclear. This paper addresses these knowledge gaps for the western United States (WUS), where annual forest fire area increased by more than 1,100% during 1984 to 2020. Among 72 forested basins across the WUS that burned between 1984 and 2019, the multibasin mean streamflow was significantly elevated by 0.19 SDs (P < 0.01) for an average of 6 water years postfire, compared to the range of results expected from climate alone. Significance is assessed by comparing prefire and postfire streamflow responses to climate and also to streamflow among 107 control basins that experienced little to no wildfire during the study period. The streamflow response scales with fire extent: among the 29 basins where >20% of forest area burned in a year, streamflow over the first 6 water years postfire increased by a multibasin average of 0.38 SDs, or 30%. Postfire streamflow increases were significant in all four seasons. Historical fire–climate relationships combined with climate model projections suggest that 2021 to 2050 will see repeated years when climate is more fire-conducive than in 2020, the year currently holding the modern record for WUS forest area burned. These findings center on relatively small, minimally managed basins, but our results suggest that burned areas will grow enough over the next 3 decades to enhance streamflow at regional scales. Wildfire is an emerging driver of runoff change that will increasingly alter climate impacts on water supplies and runoff-related risks.

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Geomorphic recovery and post-fire flooding implications following the 2019 Museum Fire

Webinar recording.

The 2019 Museum Fire burned nearly 2,000 acres of steep forested terrain abutting Flagstaff city limits in northern Arizona. In addition to the immediate fire danger, post-fire flooding posed a significant threat to the downstream community and critical infrastructure, prompting a multi-agency cooperation to evaluate post-fire runoff and geomorphic change during the recovery period (Fall 2019 to present). Uniquely, the burn scar experienced two record-dry monsoons in 2019 and 2020 with minor runoff, followed by a significantly wet monsoon in 2021 resulting in multiple post-fire flow events and damage to areas identified to be at risk. The timing of these flow events proves relatively rare as most burn scars in the Southwest experience their first major runoff events between a few weeks and months following fire, with severity of runoff events generally decreasing with time as the scar recovers. This presentation provides a detailed, multi-year documentation of geomorphic change and recovery in the Museum burn scar throughout its unusual recovery history. Additionally, in response to the 2021 flood events, flood mitigation structures were constructed on the floodplain below the Museum scar; the impact of 2022 monsoonal runoff on these structures is currently being evaluated in context with watershed recovery and will be available for future discussion.

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An assessment of American Indian forestry research, information needs, and priorities

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This study expands on a 2011 tribal research needs assessment with a survey to identify tribal natural resource professionals’ research needs, access to research findings, and interest in participating in research. Information needs identified in our survey includes forest health, water quality, culturally significant species, workforce and tribal youth development, cultural importance of water, and invasive species. Additionally, postfire response and valuation, resilience and long-term forestry, protecting and curating tribal data, and Indigenous burning were more important research needs for tribal members than for nontribal members. This study can inform forestry research planning efforts and establish research priorities and collaborations that are aligned with needs identified by tribal natural resource managers.

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Temporal mismatch in space use by a sagebrush obligate species after large-scale wildfire

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We modeled seasonal habitat use by female greater sage-grouse in the Trout Creek Mountains of Oregon and Nevada, USA, to identify landscape characteristics that influenced sage-grouse habitat selection and to create predictive surfaces of seasonal use 1 and 7 years postfire. We developed three resource selection function models using GPS location data from 2013 to 2019 for three biologically distinct seasons (breeding, n = 149 individuals: 8 March–12 June; summer, n = 140 individuals: 13 June–20 October; and winter, n = 94 individuals: 21 October–7 March). For all seasons, by the fourth or fifth year postfire, sage-grouse selected for unburned patches more than all other burn severity patches and the use of unburned areas in comparison with burned areas increased through time. During the breeding season, sage-grouse selected for low-sagebrush -dominated ecosystems and areas with low biomass (normalized difference vegetation index). During summer, sage-grouse selected for areas with higher annual and perennial grasses and forb cover, and areas that had higher biomass. During winter, sage-grouse selected for areas of intact sagebrush on less rugged terrain. For the winter and breeding season, there was a positive linear relationship between annual grasses and forb cover through time. Seven years postfire (2019), the area predicted to have a high probability of use in each seasonal range decreased (breeding: 16.4%; summer: 12.2%; and winter: 4.2%), while the area predicted to have low or low-medium probability of use increased (breeding: 14.5%; summer: 22.5%; and winter: 22.8%) when compared to the first year following the wildfire (2013). Our results demonstrated a 4- to 5-year time lag before female sage-grouse adapted to a disturbed landscape began avoiding burned areas more than intact, unburned habitats. This mismatch in ecological response may imply declines in habitat availability for sage-grouse and may destabilize population vital rates. Spatially explicit models can aid in identifying priority areas for restoration efforts and conservation actions to mitigate the impacts of future disturbances.

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