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The Northwest Fire Science Consortium works to accelerate the awareness, understanding, and adoption of wildland fire science. We connect managers, practitioners, scientists, and local communities and collaboratives working on fire issues on forest and range lands in Washington and Oregon.

Learn more about NWFSC...

JFSP Regions


NWFSC is one of
fifteen regional exchanges
sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program.

Hot Topics

An outlook for the 2019 fire season in Oregon and Washington

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Josh Clark, Meteorologist for the Washington DNR, presented "An outlook for the 2019 fire season in Oregon and Washington." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Overview & Applications of the PNW Quantitative Wildfire Risk Assessment

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Rick Stratton, Fire Analyst, Planning & Budget with the National Headquarters, Fire & Aviation Management, USFS, presented "Overview & Applications of the PNW Quantitative Wildfire Risk Assessment." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Use of Science and Modeling by Practitioners in Landscape-Scale Management Decisions

Authored by E.M. White; Published 2019

Scientific knowledge and tools have central roles in contemporary federal forest programs that promote restoration in large landscapes and across ownerships. Although we know much about the role of science in decisionmaking and ways that science can be better linked to practice, we know less about manager perspectives about science and science tools, and the perceived role of both in planning. We surveyed Forest Service resource managers in the western United States to address this knowledge gap. Respondents engaged most frequently with science via reading research publications; direct engagement with scientists was less common. There was widespread agreement that science was a useful input to decisionmaking. Managers believed more weight should be placed on science in decisionmaking in cases of low public consensus than in cases of high public consensus. Managers with the most frequent engagement with science generally held more positive views towards science and its role in decisionmaking.

NWFSC Fire Facts: What are? Types of Fire

Authored by N.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2019

There are three basic types of forest fires: ground, surface, and crown. Fire Facts: What are? Types of Fire

Wildfires as an ecosystem service

Authored by J.G. Pausas; Published 2019

Wildfires are often perceived as destructive disturbances, but we propose that when integrating evolutionary and socioecological factors, fires in most ecosystems can be understood as natural processes that provide a variety of benefits to humankind. Wildfires generate open habitats that enable the evolution of a diversity of shade‐intolerant plants and animals that have long benefited humans. There are many provisioning, regulating, and cultural services that people obtain from wildfires, and prescribed fires and wildfire management are tools for mimicking the ancestral role of wildfires in an increasingly populated world.

Policy tools to address scale mismatches: insights from U.S. forest governance

Authored by C.A. Schultz; Published 2019

Recent literature has highlighted the growing array of scale mismatches in environmental governance and offered policy design principles for improved governance approaches. A next step is to develop our understanding of specific policy tools that can address scale mismatches. This paper reviews the range and importance of scale-related challenges and solutions in environmental governance, situating this discussion in the context of forest governance. We then tackle the matter of policy tools to address scale mismatches, by synthesizing findings from recent policy research on two contemporarily important issues in forest governance, collaborative landscape restoration and multilevel monitoring for ecological integrity, each of which presents distinct challenges related to scale matching and coordination. The research suggests that policy innovations are supporting greater scale sensitivity, through specific legal mandates that require scale considerations and promotion of partnerships and networks. Successful strategies balance requirements to work across scales and levels, with flexibility to tailor approaches to local contexts; our work demonstrates how policy tools can facilitate this in particular contexts. Future research should seek to understand the trade-offs of working at particular scales and continue to explore examples of how design principles for adaptive governance manifest in policy and practice across different contexts.

Integrating Subjective and Objective Dimensions of Resilience in Fire-Prone Landscapes

Authored by P.E. Higuera; Published 2019

Resilience has become a common goal for science-based natural resource management, particularly in the context of changing climate and disturbance regimes. Integrating varying perspectives and definitions of resilience is a complex and often unrecognized challenge to applying resilience concepts to social–ecological systems (SESs) management. Using wildfire as an example, we develop a framework to expose and separate two important dimensions of resilience: the inherent properties that maintain structure, function, or states of an SES and the human perceptions of desirable or valued components of an SES. In doing so, the framework distinguishes between value-free and human-derived, value-explicit dimensions of resilience. Four archetypal scenarios highlight that ecological resilience and human values do not always align and that recognizing and anticipating potential misalignment is critical for developing effective management goals. Our framework clarifies existing resilience theory, connects literature across disciplines, and facilitates use of the resilience concept in research and land-management applications.

The missing fire: quantifying human exclusion of wildfire in Pacific Northwest forests, USA

Authored by R.D. Haugo; Published 2019

Western U.S. wildfire area burned has increased dramatically over the last half‐century. How contemporary extent and severity of wildfires compare to the pre‐settlement patterns to which ecosystems are adapted is debated. We compared large wildfires in Pacific Northwest forests from 1984 to 2015 to modeled historic fire regimes. Despite late twentieth‐century increases in area burned, we show that Pacific Northwest forests have experienced an order of magnitude less fire over 32 yr than expected under historic fire regimes. Within fires that have burned, severity distributions are disconnected from historical references. From 1984 to 2015, 1.6 M ha burned; this is 13.3–18.9 M ha less than expected. Deficits were greatest in dry forest ecosystems adapted to frequent, low‐severity fire, where 7.2–10.3 M ha of low‐severity fire was missing, compared to a 0.2–1.1 M ha deficit of high‐severity fire. When these dry forests do burn, we observed that 36% burned with high‐severity compared to 6–9% historically. We found smaller fire deficits, 0.3–0.6 M ha, within forest ecosystems adapted to infrequent, high‐severity fire. However, we also acknowledge inherent limitations in evaluating contemporary fire regimes in ecosystems which historically burned infrequently and for which fires were highly episodic. The magnitude of contemporary fire deficits and disconnect in burn severity compared to historic fire regimes have important implications for climate change adaptation. Within forests characterized by low‐ and mixed‐severity historic fire regimes, simply increasing wildfire extent while maintaining current trends in burn severity threatens ecosystem resilience and will potentially drive undesirable ecosystem transformations. Restoring natural fire regimes requires management that facilitates much more low‐ and moderate‐severity fire.

Effects of season and interval of prescribed burns on pyrogenic carbon in ponderosa pine stands in the southern Blue Mountains, Oregon, USA

Authored by L.M. Matosziuk; Published 2019

In ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests of the western United States, prescribed burns are used to reduce fuel loads and restore historical fire regimes. The season of and interval between burns can have complex consequences for the ecosystem, including the production of pyrogenic carbon (PyC). PyC plays a crucial role in soil carbon cycling, displaying turnover times that are orders of magnitude longer than unburned organic matter. This work investigated how the season of and interval between prescribed burns affects soil organic matter, including the formation and retention of PyC, in a ponderosa pine forest of eastern Oregon. In 1997 a prescribed burn study was implemented in Malheur National Forest to examine the ecological effects of burning at 5 and 15-year intervals in either the spring or fall. In October 2015, both O-horizon and mineral soil (0–15 cm) samples were collected and analyzed for PyC concentration, content, and structure using the benzene polycarboxylic acid (BPCA) method. O-horizon depth, carbon and nitrogen concentration and content, pH, and bulk density were also measured. Plots burned in the spring and fall had lower C and N stocks in the O-horizon compared to the unburned controls due to a reduction in O-horizon depth; however, we did not observe any differences in O-horizon concentration of C or N. Moreover, the concentrations and stocks of C and N in the mineral soil of plots burned in the spring or fall were the same as or only very slightly different from the unburned controls, suggesting that the prescribed burns on these sites have not adversely affected SOM quantity in the surface mineral soil carbon pools over the course of this 18-year experiment. Compared to unburned controls, we estimate that fall burns increased the mean PyC concentration of the mineral soil by 8.42 g BPCA/kg C. We did not detect a difference in mean PyC concentration of the mineral soil between the spring burns and the unburned controls; however, the spring burn plots did contain a number of isolated pockets with very high concentrations of PyC, suggesting a patchier burn pattern for these plots. In general, there was no detectable difference in any of the response variables when comparing the various prescribed burn treatments to one another. Reestablishing fire in these forests resulted in minor effects on the PyC concentration and pH, which may have beneficial impacts on soil carbon and available nutrients, while having few effects on other soil characteristics. This suggests that the application of low severity prescribed fires should result in little detrimental change to soils of ponderosa pine forests of the Southern Blue Mountains, while achieving management objectives such as reduction of surface fuels.

Four-fold increase in solar forcing on snow in western U.S. burned forests since 1999

Authored by K.E. Gleason; Published 2019

Forest fires are increasing across the American West due to climate warming and fire suppression. Accelerated snow melt occurs in burned forests due to increased light transmission through the canopy and decreased snow albedo from deposition of light-absorbing impurities. Using satellite observations, we document up to an annual 9% growth in western forests burned since 1984, and 5 day earlier snow disappearance persisting for >10 years following fire. Here, we show that black carbon and burned woody debris darkens the snowpack and lowers snow albedo for 15 winters following fire, using measurements of snow collected from seven forested sites that burned between 2002 and 2016. We estimate a 372 to 443% increase in solar energy absorbed by snowpacks occurred beneath charred forests over the past two decades, with enhanced post-fire radiative forcing in 2018 causing earlier melt and snow disappearance in > 11% of forests in the western seasonal snow zone.

Growing up: Findings from a JFSP student project on post-fire conifer regeneration trajectories in eastern Oregon

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Angela Boag, Research Associate, University of Colorado Boulder, presented "Growing up: Findings from a JFSP student project on post-fire conifer regeneration trajectories in eastern Oregon." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Fire and Forest Management in Montane Forests of the Northwestern States and California, USA

Authored by I. Allen; Published 2019

We reviewed forest management in the mountainous regions of several northwestern states and California in the United States and how it has impacted current issues facing these forests. We focused on the large-scale activities like fire suppression and logging which resulted in landscape level changes. We divided the region into two main forests types; wet, like the forests in the Pacific Northwest, and dry, like the forests in the Sierra Nevada and Cascade ranges. In the wet forests, the history of intensive logging shaped the current forest structure, while fire suppression played a more major role in the dry forests. Next, we looked at how historical management has influenced new forest management challenges, like catastrophic fires, decreased heterogeneity, and climate change. We then synthesized what current management actions are performed to address these issues, like thinning to reduce fuels or improve structural heterogeneity, and restoration after large-scale disturbances. Lastly, we touch on some major policies that have influenced changes in management. We note a trend towards ecosystem management that considers a forest’s historical disturbance regime. With expected climate induced changes in fire frequency, it is suggested that fuel treatments be implemented in dry forests to ensure an understory fire regime is restored in these forest systems. With respect to wet forests in this region, it is suggested that there is still a place for stand-replacing fire regimes. However, these forests will require structural changes incorporating heterogeneity to improve their resiliency and health.

Mixed-severity wildfire and habitat of an old-forest obligate

Authored by D.B. Lesmeister; Published 2019

The frequency, extent, and severity of wildfire strongly influence the structure and function of ecosystems. Mixed‐severity fire regimes are the most complex and least understood fire regimes, and variability of fire severity can occur at fine spatial and temporal scales, depending on previous disturbance history, topography, fuel continuity, vegetation type, and weather. During high fire weather in 2013, a complex of mixed‐severity wildfires burned across multiple ownerships within the Klamath‐Siskiyou ecoregion of southwestern Oregon where northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina) demographics were studied since 1990. A year prior to these wildfires, high‐resolution, remotely sensed forest structural information derived from light detection and ranging (lidar) data was acquired for an area that fully covered the extent of these fires. To quantify wildfire impact on northern spotted owl nesting/roosting habitat, we fit a relative habitat suitability model based on pre‐fire locations used for nesting and roosting, and forest structure variables developed from 2012 lidar data. Our pre‐fire habitat suitability model predicted nesting/roosting locations well, and variable response functions followed known resource selection patterns. These forests had typical characteristics of old‐growth forest, with high density of large live trees, high canopy cover, and complex structure in canopy height. We projected the pre‐fire model onto lidar data collected two months post‐fire to produce a post‐fire suitability map, which indicated that >93% of pre‐fire habitat that burned at high severity was no longer suitable forest for nesting and roosting. We also quantified the probability that pre‐fire nesting/roosting habitat would burn at each severity class (unburned/low, low, moderate, high). Pre‐fire nesting/roosting habitat had lower probability of burning at moderate or high severity compared to other forest types under high burning conditions. Our results indicate that northern spotted owl habitat can buffer the negative effects of climate change by enhancing biodiversity and resistance to high‐severity fires, which are predicted to increase in frequency and extent with climate change. Within this region, protecting large blocks of old forests could be an integral component of management plans that successfully maintain variability of forests in this mixed‐ownership and mixed‐severity fire regime landscape and enhance conservation of many species.

What’s New in LANDFIRE: Remap

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Jim Smith, Program Lead and Kori Blankenship, Fire Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy LANDFIRE Team, presented "What’s New in LANDFIRE: Remap." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Forest Service fire management and the elusiveness of change

Authored by C.A. Schultz; Published 2019

There is broad recognition that fire management in the United States must fundamentally change and depart from practices that have led to an over-emphasis on suppression and limited the presence of fire in forested ecosystems. In this paper, we look at competing problem definitions in US Forest Service policy for fire management, the presence of goal ambiguity, and how these factors can explain why changes in fire management have been elusive, despite policy change. We consider US Forest Service fire policies, performance incentives, and decision-making processes for two sides of the agency: the National Forest System, which is responsible for land management on the national forests, and Fire and Aviation Management, which oversees response to wildland fire.

10th Annual Northwest Climate Conference

The Northwest Climate Conference provides a unique opportunity to learn from and connect with a diverse community of experts fostering a more climate resilient Northwest. The event brings together practitioners, scientists, tribal communities, and decision-makers to share knowledge, ideas, and best practices related to climate change science, impacts, and adaptation in the Pacific Northwest. Topics include drought, wildfire, extreme events, coastal flooding, human and ecosystem health, and resiliency planning.

To learn more, visit https://www.nwclimateconference.org/

National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance Workshop

Visit the NWSA website for more information!