Tree mortality based fire severity classification for forest inventories: a Pacific Northwest national forests example

TitleTree mortality based fire severity classification for forest inventories: a Pacific Northwest national forests example
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2016
AuthorsWhittier, TR
Secondary AuthorsGray, AN
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Start Page199
KeywordsFire severity, technical reports and journal articles

Determining how the frequency, severity, and extent of forest fires are changing in response to changes in management and climate is a key concern in many regions where fire is an important natural disturbance. In the USA the only national-scale fire severity classification uses satellite image change-detection to produce maps for large (>400 ha) fires, and is generated by the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) program. It is not clear how much forested area burns in smaller fires or whether ground-based fire severity estimates from a statistical sample of all forest lands might provide additional, useful information. We developed a tree mortality based fire severity classification using remeasured tree data from 10,008 plots in a probabilistic survey of National Forests System (NFS) lands in Oregon and Washington, using 8 tree mortality and abundance metrics. We estimate that 12.5% (±0.7% SE) of NFS forest lands in the region experienced a fire event during 1993–2007, with an annual rate of 0.96% (±0.05%). An estimated 6.5% of forest lands burned at High Severity or Moderate Severity; 2.1% burned at Very Low severity or only experienced surface or understory fire. A total of 358 of the 507 burned plots were within the MTBS perimeters, with ∼45% having equivalent severity classifications; but for ∼51% of the plots the MTBS classifications suggested lower severity than the tree-mortality based classes. Based on events recorded on plots and the inventory design, we estimate that 20.9% of the forested NFS lands experiencing fires, either wildfires or prescribed burns, were not in the MTBS maps. Tree mortality based fire severity classifications, combined with remotely-sensed and management information on timing and treatments, could be readily applied to nationally-consistent Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data to provide improved monitoring of fire effects anywhere in the USA sampled by remeasured FIA inventories.