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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.

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

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Long-Term Effects of Burn Season and Frequency on Ponderosa Pine Forest Fuels and Seedlings

Authored by D.J. Westlind; Published 2017

Prescribed fire is widely applied in western US forests to limit future fire severity by reducing tree density, fuels, and excessive seedlings. Repeated prescribed burning attempts to simulate historical fire regimes in frequent-fire forests, yet there is limited long-term information regarding optimal burn season and frequency. In addition, burns are operationally feasible only in the spring and late fall, largely outside the historical wildfire season. This study quantifies the effect of seasonal reburns on woody surface fuels, forest floor fuels, and understory tree regeneration abundance in six previously thinned ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) stands in the southern Blue Mountain Ecoregion of Oregon, USA. Each stand consisted of an unburned control, and four season by reburn treatments: spring 5 yr, spring 15 yr, fall 5 yr, and fall 15 yr. We evaluated season and frequency of reburn for woody surface fuel (1 hr to 1000 hr), forest floor fuel (litter and duff, undifferentiated), and understory conifer seedling density (regeneration). Burning was initiated in the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998; we present results in this paper through 2014 for fuel, and 2015 for seedlings. All reburn treatments reduced the forest floor depth compared to those areas not burned (controls). Fall burning, regardless of frequency, generated 1000 hr fuel primarily from overstory mortality resulting from the initial entry burns and subsequent snag and branch fall. But, for the other woody fuel types, reburning had minimal impact, regardless of season or frequency. All reburn treatments reduced regeneration survival, but 5 yr fall reburning was most effective in reducing excessive conifer seedlings. Repeated spring or fall reburns following thinning will reduce forest floor depth but, to achieve low woody fuel loads and control excessive conifer regeneration, it may be necessary to conduct reburns using different timing, such as during drier periods when wildfire ignitions by lightning occurred historically.


Prescribed Fire in Grassland Butterfly Habitat: Targeting Weather and Fuel Conditions to Reduce Soil Temperatures and Burn Severity

Authored by K.C. Hill; Published 2017

Prescribed burning is a primary tool for habitat restoration and management in fire-adapted grasslands. Concerns about detrimental effects of burning on butterfly populations, however, can inhibit implementation of treatments. Burning in cool and humid conditions is likely to result in lowered soil temperatures and to produce patches of low burn severity, both of which would enhance survival of butterfly larvae at or near the soil surface. In this study, we burned 20 experimental plots in South Puget Sound, Washington, USA, prairies across a range of weather and fuel conditions to address the potential for producing these outcomes.


Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Or Should I Wait and See? Influences on Wildfire Evacuation Decisions

Authored by S. McCaffrey; Published 2017

As climate change has contributed to longer fire seasons and populations living in fire-prone ecosystems increase, wildfires have begun to affect a growing number of people. As a result, interest in understanding the wildfire evacuation decision process has increased. Of particular interest is understanding why some people leave early, some choose to stay and defend their homes, and others wait to assess conditions before making a final decision. Individuals who tend to wait and see are of particular concern given the dangers of late evacuation. To understand what factors might influence different decisions, we surveyed homeowners in three areas in the United States that recently experienced a wildfire. The Protective Action Decision Model was used to identify a suite of factors previously identified as potentially relevant to evacuation decisions. Our results indicate that different beliefs about the efficacy of a particular response or action (evacuating or staying to defend), differences in risk attitudes, and emphasis on different cues to act (e.g., official warnings, environmental cues) are key factors underlying different responses. Further, latent class analysis indicates there are two general classes of individuals: those inclined to evacuate and those inclined to stay, and that a substantial portion of each class falls into the wait and see category.


Fires following Bark Beetles: Factors Controlling Severity and Disturbance Interactions in Ponderosa Pine

Authored by C.H. Sieg; Published 2017

Previous studies have suggested that bark beetles and fires can be interacting disturbances, whereby bark beetle–caused tree mortality can alter the risk and severity of subsequent wildland fires. However, there remains considerable uncertainty around the type and magnitude of the interaction between fires following bark beetle attacks, especially in drier forest types such as those dominated by ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson). We used a full factorial design across a range of factors thought to control bark beetle−fire interactions, including the temporal phase of the outbreak, level of mortality, and wind speed. We used a three-dimensional physics-based model, HIGRAD/FIRETEC, to simulate fire behavior in fuel beds representative of 60 field plots across five national forests in northern Arizona, USA. The plots were dominated by ponderosa pine, and encompassed a gradient of bark beetle–caused mortality due to a mixture of both Ips and Dendroctonus species. Non-host species included two sprouting species, Gambel oak (Quercus gambelii Nutt.) and alligator juniper (Juniperus deppeana Steud.), as well as other junipers and pinyon pine (Pinus edulis Engelm.). The simulations explicitly accounted for the modifications of fuel mass and moisture distribution caused by bark beetle–caused mortality. We first analyzed the influence of the outbreak phase, level of mortality, and wind speed on the severity of a subsequent fire, expressed as a function of live and dead canopy fuel consumption. We then computed a metric based on canopy fuel loss to characterize whether bark beetles and fire are linked disturbances and, if they are, if the linkage is antagonistic (net bark beetle and fire severity being less than if the two disturbances occurred independently) or synergistic (greater combined effects than independent disturbances). Both the severity of a subsequent fire and whether bark beetles and fire are linked disturbances depended on the outbreak phase of the bark beetle mortality and attack severity, as well as the fire weather (here, wind). Greater fire severity and synergistic interactions were generally associated with the “red phase” (when dead needles remain on trees). In contrast, during the “gray phase” (when dead needles had fallen to the ground), fire severity was either similar to, or less than, green-phase fires and interactions were generally antagonistic, but included both synergistic and neutral interactions. The simulations also revealed that the magnitude of the linkage between these two disturbances was smaller for fires occurring during high wind conditions, especially in the red phase. This complexity might be a reason for the contrasted or controversial perception of bark beetle−fire interactions reported in the literature, since both fire severity and the type and magnitude of the linkage can vary strongly among studies. These results suggest that, for fires burning in the gray phase following moderate levels of mortality, bark beetle–caused mortality may buffer rather than exacerbate fire severity. However, for fires burning under high wind speeds, regardless of the outbreak phase or level of mortality, the near complete loss of canopy fuels may push this ecosystem into an alternative state dominated by sprouting species.


Impacts of fire smoke plumes on regional air quality, 2006–2013

Authored by A.E. Larsen; Published 2017

Increases in the severity and frequency of large fires necessitate improved understanding of the influence of smoke on air quality and public health. The objective of this study is to estimate the effect of smoke from fires across the continental U.S. on regional air quality over an extended period of time. We use 2006–2013 data on ozone (O3), fine particulate matter (PM2.5), and PM2.5 constituents from environmental monitoring sites to characterize regional air quality and satellite imagery data to identify plumes. Unhealthy levels of O3 and PM2.5 were, respectively, 3.3 and 2.5 times more likely to occur on plume days than on clear days. With a two-stage approach, we estimated the effect of plumes on pollutants, controlling for season, temperature, and within-site and between-site variability. Plumes were associated with an average increase of 2.6 p.p.b. (2.5, 2.7) in O3 and 2.9 µg/m3 (2.8, 3.0) in PM2.5 nationwide, but the magnitude of effects varied by location. The largest impacts were observed across the southeast. High impacts on O3 were also observed in densely populated urban areas at large distance from the fires throughout the southeast. Fire smoke substantially affects regional air quality and accounts for a disproportionate number of unhealthy days.


Restoring Resilient Communities in Changing Landscapes

The Society for Ecological Restoration and Society of Wetland Scientists are pleased to announce their joint Pacific Northwest Regional conference October 15-19, 2018 in Spokane, Washington. The conference will also provide a forum for members of North American Chapters of the Society for Ecological Restoration to address regional and continental North American issues of importance to wetland science and ecological restoration. The conference will gather scientists, practitioners, and decision makers around the theme of restoring ecological resilience and resilient communities in changing landscapes.

For more information, https://restoration2018.org/