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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.


May 24-25th in Vancouver, WA

Westside Fire Regime Summit

Fire in the PNW - Past, Present & Future: Implications for ecology, operations, and restoration west of the crest of the Cascade Mountains

Registration will close on May 17th!

This event has been approved for 9 CEU's from the SAF.

Hot Topics

NWFSC Research Brief #13: Contracted Suppression Resources: Private Engine Dispatch and Sharing in the Northwest

Authored by N.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2017

In this study, researchers used data from the US Forest Service’s National Resource Ordering and Status System to investigate how private sector resources were dispatched to fires. In particular, they examined the dispatch of private engines in the Northwest Geographic Area (GA), which encompasses Oregon and Washington, from 2008 to 2015. The researchers also investigated how private sector engine capacity compared to demand by focusing on engine dispatch during the 2015 fire season, which was widely considered the most severe in the Northwest’s modern history.

Mortality predictions of fire-injured large Douglas-fir and ponderosa pine in Oregon and Washington, USA

Authored by L.M. Ganio; Published 2017

Wild and prescribed fire-induced injury to forest trees can produce immediate or delayed tree mortality but fire-injured trees can also survive. Land managers use logistic regression models that incorporate tree-injury variables to discriminate between fatally injured trees and those that will survive. We used data from 4024 ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws.) and 3804 Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) trees from 23 fires across Oregon and Washington to assess the discriminatory ability of 21 existing logistic regression models and a polychotomous key (Scott guidelines). We used insights from the validation exercise to build new models for each tree species and to identify fire-injury variables which consistently produce accurate mortality predictions. Only 8% of Ponderosa pine and 14% of Douglas-fir died within 3 years after fire. The amount of crown volume consumed, the number of bole quadrants with dead cambium and the presence of beetles were variables that classified most accurately, but surviving trees in our sample displayed a wide range of fire injury making the accurate classification of dead trees difficult. For ponderosa pine, our new model correctly classified 99% of live trees and 12% of dead trees while the Malheur model (Thies et al., 2006) correctly classified 95% of live trees and 24% of dead trees. The Scott guidelines accurately predicted at least 98% of live ponderosa pine trees but less than 2% of dead ponderosa pine. For Douglas-fir the Scott guidelines accurately predicted at least 80% of live trees and generally less than 10% of dead trees. Misclassification rates can be controlled by the choice of decision criteria used in the models and managers are encouraged to consider costs of the two types of misclassifications when choosing decision criteria for specific land management decisions.

The effects of thinning and burning on understory vegetation in North America: A meta-analysis

Authored by J. Willms; Published 2017

Management in fire-prone ecosystems relies widely upon application of prescribed fire and/or fire-surrogate (e.g., forest thinning) treatments to maintain biodiversity and ecosystem function. The literature suggests fire and mechanical treatments proved more variable in their effects on understory vegetation as compared to their effects on stand structure. The growing body of work comparing fire and thinning effects on understory vegetation offers an opportunity to increase the generality of conclusions through meta-analysis. We conducted a meta-analysis to determine if there were consistent responses of understory vegetation to these treatments in North American forests that historically experienced frequent surface fire regimes (<20 years fire return interval, FRI). Means and standard errors were extracted from 32 papers containing data on the response of four understory functional groups (herbaceous, shrub, non-native, and total) to thinning and burning treatments to calculate effect sizes. Lack of replication and inconsistent reporting of results hindered our ability to include many studies in this analysis. For each response variable (species richness and percent cover), we compared three treatment pairs: burn vs control, thin vs control and thin vs burn. We calculated standardized mean differences (Hedges’ g) for each pair and tested if this differed from zero using a random effects model fit with restricted maximum likelihood to account for variation by site. The most consistent effect of the treatments was the increase in non-native species following mechanical thinning and reduction in shrub cover following a burn. These differences suggest the two treatments may not be surrogates in the short-term (less than 5 years). Increase of non-native species due to disturbance is well established but it is not clear if burning and thinning consistently have differential impacts. Response of non-native plants to disturbance is likely a complex function of a variety of site and landscape factors that cannot be evaluated by the current literature. We conclude that prescribed fire and thinning treatments can be used successfully to restore understory species richness and cover, but they can create different conditions and these potentially different outcomes need to be considered in the planning of a fuels reduction treatment. We discuss management options to reduce negative effects of the treatments and we suggest managers use current decision-making frameworks prior to designing an intervention.

The Influence of Western Spruce Budworm on Fire in Spruce-Fir Forests

Authored by E. Vane; Published 2017

Western spruce budworm (Choristoneura freemani Razowski; WSBW) is the most significant defoliator of coniferous trees in the western United States. Despite its important influence on Western forests, there are still gaps in our knowledge of WSBW’s impact on fire, and little research has been done on this relationship in high-elevation spruce-fir forests. Although this species is native to western North America, current outbreaks have persisted for many years in some areas, leading to high mortality rates among host tree species. Using the Fire and Fuels Extension of the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FFE-FVS), we examined the current and future impact of an ongoing WSBW outbreak on potential fire behavior in spruce-fir forests in northern New Mexico, USA. We found that this ongoing WSBW outbreak resulted in little to no difference in fire behavior under moderate fire weather conditions. Under high-severity fire weather conditions, stands enduring WSBW outbreaks experienced less severe fire behavior. We also found that WSBW outbreaks resulted in a decrease in fire behavior under severe fire weather conditions for 40 years following the outbreak.

Fire History and Forest Structure along an Elevational Gradient in the Southern Cascade Range, Oregon, USA

Authored by A.B. Forrestel; Published 2017

We examined stand structure, demography, and fire history using tree cores and fire scar data across an approximately 7000-hectare study area over an elevational gradient in the southern Cascade Range, Oregon, USA. Our plots were located in mountain hemlock (Tsuga mertensiana [Bong.] Carr), red fir (Abies magnifica A. Murr.), lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Loudon), and mixed conifer forest types. Stand demography from high elevation mountain hemlock forests showed continuous regeneration since the early 1600s and no fire scars present. Red fir forests showed both continuous and episodic regeneration over the past several centuries, providing evidence for a mixed-severity fire regime. Lodgepole pine stands were even-aged with no fire scar evidence and likely established following high severity fire events. Mixed conifer forests were uneven-aged. The majority of trees that we sampled established between 1880 and 1920. Interpretation of our data is limited by a small number of fire scars and relatively small sample size. However, our study highlights the spatial complexity of forest types and concomitant fire regimes on this landscape.

Sharing contracted resources for fire suppression: engine dispatch in the Northwestern United States

Authored by K.M. Lyon; Published 2017

As demand for wildfire response resources grows across the globe, a central challenge is developing new and flexible systems and capacity to ensure that resources needed for fire response arrive when and where they are needed. Private contractors have become increasingly important in providing equipment and services to support agency wildfire suppression needs in the USA. Understanding the capacity of contracted resources for federal agency fire suppression needs is critical for preseason fire planning and response. Using National Resource Ordering and Status System data, we examined Northwest region engine dispatches from 2008 to 2015. The number of times and days engines were out on assignments increased over the study period, and dispatch centres routinely shared engines within and outside their geographic area. However, in 2015, not all of the available engines were recorded as utilised at peak demand during one of the largest fire seasons in the Northwest. This study provides insight into the ways in which fire managers share important resources such as engines and the information they have available to make decisions during an incident, and raises questions about what the right amount of capacity is to be able to respond in extreme fire years.

The normal fire environment—Modeling environmental suitability for large forest wildfires using past, present, and future climate normals

Authored by R. Davis; Published 2017

We modeled the normal fire environment for occurrence of large forest wildfires (>40 ha) for the Pacific Northwest Region of the United States. Large forest wildfire occurrence data from the recent climate normal period (1971–2000) was used as the response variable and fire season precipitation, maximum temperature, slope, and elevation were used as predictor variables. A projection of our model onto the 2001–2030 climate normal period showed strong agreement between model predictions and the area of forest burned by large wildfires from 2001 to 2015 (independent fire data). We then used downscaled climate projections for two greenhouse gas concentration scenarios and over 30 climate models to project changes in environmental suitability for large forest fires over the 21st century. Results indicated an increasing proportion of forested area with fire environments more suitable for the occurrence of large wildfires over the next century for all ecoregions but less pronounced for the Coast Range and Puget Lowlands. The largest increases occurred on federal lands, while private and state lands showed less. We calculated fire rotation periods for the recent historical and current climate and examined the relative differences between them and our modeled large wildfire suitability classes. By the end of the century, the models predicted shorter fire rotation periods, with cooler/moister forests experiencing larger magnitudes of change than warmer/drier forests. Modeling products, including a set of time series maps, can provide forest resource managers, fire protection agencies, and policy-makers empirical estimates of how much and where climate change might affect the geographic distribution of large wildfires and effect fire rotations.

Fire and dwarf mistletoe (Viscaceae: Arceuthobium species) in western North America: contrasting Arceuthobium tsugense and Arceuthobium americanum

Authored by D.C. Shaw; Published 2017

Dwarf mistletoes (Viscaceae: Arceuthobium spp.) and fire interact in important ways in the coniferous forests of western North America. Fire directly affects dwarf mistletoes by killing the host, host branch, or heating/smoking the aerial shoots and fruits. Fire is a primary determinant of dwarf mistletoe distribution on the landscape, and time since fire controls many aspects of dwarf mistletoe epidemiology. Conversely, dwarf mistletoes can influence fire by causing changes in forest composition, structure, and fuels. Prescribed fire is important for management of dwarf mistletoes, while fire suppression is thought to have increased dwarf mistletoe abundance in western forests. Two dwarf mistletoes are compared in order to illustrate fire interactions in Oregon and Washington, USA: Arceuthobium americanum Nutt. ex Engelm. (lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe) and Arceuthobium tsugense (Rosendahl)(western hemlock dwarf mistletoe). Arceuthobium persists on the landscape where the host is not killed by fire. Arceuthobium americanum spreads directly into the regenerating Pinus contorta Dougl. ex Loud., while A. tsugense persists in refugia for 200 years or more following fire. Host successional status is a driver of fire – dwarf mistletoe interactions, but forest disturbance agents also play a role. Given the importance of these interactions to the ecology of fire-prone forests, dwarf mistletoes warrant inclusion in disturbance ecology research.

Surface fuels in recent Phytophthora ramorum created gaps and adjacent intact Quercus agrifolia forests, East Bay Regional Parks, California, USA

Authored by D.C. Shaw; Published 2017

Phytophthora ramorum, cause of “sudden oak death” or SOD, has had significant impacts on composition and structure in coastal forests of central and northern coastal California and southwestern Oregon. Despite the proximity of susceptible coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) forests to densely populated urban areas, the impacts of SOD on their fuels have not been studied. We sampled surface fuels and vegetation structure in 16 plots in both SOD-caused gaps and intact stands (32 plots total) across two parks in the East Bay Regional Park District, east of San Francisco Bay. Plots were selected from a set of randomly placed pre-existing locations used in determining the disease distribution and intensity across the park system. Among the vegetation characteristics examined, only coast live oak basal area and live and dead tree density, canopy cover and maximum forb height differed between SOD created gap plots and adjacent intact forest plots. However, surface fuels such as vegetation cover, litter cover, wood cover, duff depth, fuels height, ladder fuels abundance, 1 h, 10 h, 100 h, and 1000 h fuels were greater in gap plots than intact forest plots. Although no fire behavior models were run, surface fuels suggest SOD created gaps may facilitate passive crown fire due to increased ladder and other fuels. This study represents a spatially explicit (gap focused) point-in-time estimate of surface fuels that will continue to change through time as disease progresses through these stands causing vegetation changes as fuels accumulate and decompose.

DIY Biochar

Workshop Event from Utah State University and Southern Rockies Fire Science Network

Space is limited please RSVP (by May 12) to Megan Dettenmaiermegan.dettenmaier@usu.edu. Free lunch will be provided to those who RSVP. The Lone Peak Conservation Center is on the Utah State Prison grounds, enter the prison grounds, follow signs for Biochar Workshop. Kelpie Wilson of Wilson Biochar Associates, will lead this workshop that is intended for gardeners, arborists, wildland fuels management personnel, loggers, and anyone with an interest in biochar or anyone that has woody biomass to dispose of. We will have a morning classroom session and an afternoon outdoor biochar burn, subject to air quality restrictions. Kelpie will bring simple biochar kilns and participants will learn how to build their own kilns at home from materials that are readily available.

An outlook for the 2017 fire season in WA and OR

What will you learn?

An above average snowpack, frequent rains, and below average temperatures have kept fire danger projections for the upcoming season low. However, a possible El Nino type event during late summer may be on the horizon, potentially bringing with it drier fuels conditions and persistent summer conditions through Fall, challenging normal fire season end dates. During this webinar, we’ll explore fire season predictors and climate patterns that might make 2017 one of the more unusual seasons in recent history.


Josh Clark is the meteorologist for the Washington DNR, specializing in fire weather and applications of weather in forecasting fire danger, smoke impacts, and forest health. He manages the state’s remote weather station network and is an IMET-trainee and working on his FF1 taskbook.

Session Details: Friday, June 2nd at 10:00am US/Pacific || Duration: 1 hour

Who should participate?
Land managers/practitioners, Fire managers, Scientists/Researchers, Landowners, Others 

Join the Northwest Fire Sciene Consortium and REGISTER NOW!

Natural Areas Conference

Join us for the 2017 Natural Areas Conference, where the Great Plains meet the Rocky Mountains in Colorado’s Front Range. The 44th annual Conference will be held at the Hilton Fort Collins, on the edge of the Colorado State University Campus. Colorado’s natural areas offer numerous models for successful conservation and collaboration, including the Fort Collins Natural Areas Program, which manages more than 36,000 acres. The Natural Areas Conference returns to Colorado for the first time since 1991. The event will include sessions on:

  • Managing in light of climate change
  • Ecological restoration in the Anthropocene
  • Use of native plant materials
  • Managing for pollinators
  • Wildland fire use

For more information, http://naturalareasconference.org/

Post-fire vegetation and fuel development influences fire severity patterns in reburns

Authored by M. Coppoletta; Published 2017

In areas where fire regimes and forest structure have been dramatically altered, there is increasing concern that contemporary fires have the potential to set forests on a positive feedback trajectory with successive reburns, one in which extensive stand-replacing fire could promote more stand-replacing fire. Our study utilized an extensive set of field plots established following four fires that occurred between 2000 and 2010 in the northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA that were subsequently reburned in 2012. The information obtained from these field plots allowed for a unique set of analyses investigating the effect of vegetation, fuels, topography, fire weather, and forest management on reburn severity. We also examined the influence of initial fire severity and time since initial fire on influential predictors of reburn severity. Our results suggest that high- to moderate-severity fire in the initial fires led to an increase in standing snags and shrub vegetation, which in combination with severe fire weather promoted high-severity fire effects in the subsequent reburn. Although fire behavior is largely driven by weather, our study demonstrates that post-fire vegetation composition and structure are also important drivers of reburn severity. In the face of changing climatic regimes and increases in extreme fire weather, these results may provide managers with options to create more fire- resilient ecosystems. In areas where frequent high-severity fire is undesirable, management activities such as thinning, prescribed fire, or managed wildland fire can be used to moderate fire behavior not only prior to initial fires, but also before subsequent reburns.

Diversity in forest management to reduce wildfire losses: implications for resilience

Authored by S. Charnley; Published 2017

This study investigates how federal, state, and private corporate forest owners in a fire-prone landscape of southcentral Oregon manage their forests to reduce wildfire hazard and loss to high-severity wildfire. We evaluate the implications of our findings for concepts of social–ecological resilience. Using interview data, we found a high degree of "response diversity" (variation in forest management decisions and behaviors to reduce wildfire losses) between and within actor groups. This response diversity contributed to heterogeneous forest conditions across the landscape and was driven mainly by forest management legacies, economics, and attitudes toward wildfire (fortress protection vs. living with fire). We then used an agent-based landscape model to evaluate trends in forest structure and fire metrics by ownership. Modeling results indicated that, in general, U.S. Forest Service management had the most favorable outcomes for forest resilience to wildfire, and private corporate management the least. However, some state and private corporate forest ownerships have the building blocks for developing fire-resilient forests. Heterogeneity in social–ecological systems is often thought to favor social–ecological resilience. We found that despite high social and ecological heterogeneity in our study area, most forest ownerships do not exhibit characteristics that make them resilient to high-severity fire currently or in the future under current management. Thus, simple theories about resilience based on heterogeneity must be informed by knowledge of the environmental and social conditions that comprise that heterogeneity. Our coupled human and natural systems (CHANS) approach enabled us to understand connections among the social, economic, and ecological components of a multiownership, fire-prone ecosystem, and to identify how social–ecological resilience to wildfire might improve through interventions to address key constraints in the system. Our methods underscore the importance of looking beyond the present to future trajectories of change to fully understand the implications of current natural resource management practices for adaptation and social–ecological resilience to natural disturbances.

Impacts of lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum) infestation on stand structure and fuel load in lodgepole pine dominated forests in central Colorado

Authored by S.M. Ritter; Published 2017

Parasitic plants are capable of causing substantial alterations to plant communities through impacts on individual host plants. Lodgepole pine dwarf mistletoe is an important parasite in forests of the western USA that causes reductions to productivity and is thought to alter wildland fuel complexes. These impacts are hypothesized to vary with infestation severity. To test this, we used a linear mixed modeling approach to evaluate the relationship between dwarf mistletoe infestation severity and parameters representing stand structure and surface and canopy fuels in infested lodgepole pine stands in central Colorado. Infestation severity was negatively related to live basal area, average tree size, canopy base height, canopy fuel load, and canopy bulk density, and was positively related to the loading of woody surfaces fuels greater than 0.64 cm in diameter. No relationship was detected between infestation severity and live tree density, or live crown ratio. These results confirm the long-held assumption that dwarf mistletoe increases surface fuel loading in lodgepole pine communities, but also suggest that infested stands have reduced amounts of available canopy fuel. These findings have implications for potential fire behavior and highlight the importance of dwarf mistletoe in predicting the spatial and temporal dynamics of wildland fuels.

Making National Spatial Data Work on Your NW Landscape

Webinar from LANDFIRE and Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Kori Blankenship, Fire Ecologist wtih The Nature Conservancy's LANDFIRE Team presented, Making National Spatial Data Work on Your NW Landscape.

Watch the video on our YouTube channel

Policy Scenarios for fire-adapted communities: Understanding stakeholder risk-perceptions, using Fuzzy Cognitive Maps

Authored by A.J. Jetter; Published 2017

Collaborative groups are most effective when the varied stakeholder groups within them understand the risks of wildfire and take proactive steps to manage these risks. Implementing policies for fire risk mitigation and adaptation, however, remains difficult because risks and policy alternatives are not understood or supported uniformly across diverse stakeholders. To facilitate greater understanding and collaboration across diverse groups, we developed a novel approach, based on Fuzzy Cognitive Maps (FCM), in which we systematically collected mental model representations from a range of stakeholders involved in wildfire management in the Ashland, Oregon area to better understand their diverse perceptions of wildfire events, wildfire impacts, and wildfire management and their willingness to support fire management policies. We used the Mental Modeler software in seven stakeholder workshops to facilitate building a group FCM. Mental Modeler helps individuals and communities capture their knowledge in a standardized format that can be used to analyze, through simulation, how the group thinks about management alternatives and what leverage points they see to improve the system under study. The data can also be used to analyze similarities and differences across stakeholder groups...

FireWorks Educator Workshop

FireWorks annual Master Class
•A trunk and curriculum containing 40 hands-on activities for teaching about wildland fire science
•Covers physical science of combustion, fire history, succession, andfire effects on plants andanimals
•New curriculum & streamlined materials–just released
•Includes materials on fire useby Native Americans
•Lessons for elementary, middle, and high school levels

More information:https://www.firelab.org/project/fireworks-educational-program.
Produced by Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Lab