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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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JFSP Regions

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

Hot Topics


Relational risk assessment and management: investigating capacity in wildfire response networks

Authored by B. Nowell; Published 2017

Failures in effective communication and coordination within the network of responding organizations and agencies during a wildfire can lead to problematic or dangerous outcomes. Although risk assessment and management concepts are usually understood with regards to biophysical attributes in the wildfire context, these concepts can be extended to understanding risk for problematic communication and coordination embedded within social and organizational relationships. In this research, we propose leveraging existing network and social coordination theory to investigate how pre-fire relationships and capacities affect both preparedness before a wildfire and inter-agency communication and coordination during a wildfire. This research will not only advance the science of incident management but also provide the empirical foundation for the development of a new set of concepts and rapid assessment tools that we call: Relational Risk Assessment and Management (RRAM). While existing social theory and research from other disaster contexts offers a starting point in the development of RRAM, there is much left to understand about the factors that facilitate effective inter-agency coordination during wildfires. For RRAM to be empirically-based, theoretically-sound, and contextually-grounded in the realities of fire management, applied social science is needed. We propose to utilize a quasi-experimental mixed-methods research design and advanced statistical and social network analysis techniques to address the following questions: 1)How do key characteristics of responder networks contribute to greater preparedness and more effective fire response? 2)How do these network characteristics interact with incident complexity to heighten or minimize relational risk? 3)What are best practices of relational risk management for IMTs given different risk profiles?


Spatially explicit measurements of forest structure and fire behavior following restoration treatments in dry forests

Authored by J.Paul Ziegler; Published 2017

Restoration treatments in dry forests of the western US often attempt silvicultural practices to restore the historical characteristics of forest structure and fire behavior. However, it is suggested that a reliance on non-spatial metrics of forest stand structure, along with the use of wildland fire behavior models that lack the ability to handle complex structures, may lead to uncharacteristically homogeneous rather than heterogeneous forest structures following restoration. In our study, we used spatially explicit forest inventory data and a physics based fire behavior model to investigate the effects of restoration driven, variable retention harvests on structural complexity, both of horizontal and vertical dimensions, and potential fire behavior. Structural complexity was assessed at stand and patch scales using a combination of point pattern analyses, a patch detection algorithm, and nearest-neighbor and tree patch indices of height variation. The potential fire behavior before and after treatment was simulated across a range of open wind speeds using a 3-D physics based fire behavior model, the Wildland-urban interface Fire Dynamics Simulator (WFDS). Our results show that treatments resulted in an aggregated spatial pattern of trees consisting of a matrix of individual trees, clumps and openings similar to descriptions of historical dry forests. Treatments had inconsistent effects on vertical complexity across sites likely due to differences in treatment of ladder fuels; lack of reference conditions hinder evaluation of this structural aspect. Simulation modeling using WFDS suggest that treatments moderated fire rate of spread, fireline intensity and canopy consumption across all wind speeds tested and shifted potential fire behavior towards historical ranges. Our findings suggest that current restoration-based variable retention harvests can simultaneously fulfill objectives of altering structural complexity and of reducing fire behavior, though we recommend further research on desired ranges of vertical complexity to inform treatment design.


Understanding Stakeholder Perceptions of Fire with Mental Modelling: A case study from Ashland, OR

What will you learn?

Many communities see the need to increase the use of beneficial fire, yet they struggle to find effective approaches that all stakeholders agree upon. We use mental modeling with Fuzzy Cognitive Maps to help stakeholders express their worldviews on fire use and share their insights with other stakeholder groups. Using our experience with a series of collaborative modeling sessions in Ashland, Oregon, we present the use of the method and its benefits to fire managers.

Presenter:
Antonie Jetter, Portland State University

Session Details: Monday, March 6th, 2017 at 1:30pm US/Pacific || Duration: 1 hour

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

Join the Northwest Fire Sciene Consortium and REGISTER NOW!


Can low-severity fire reverse compositional change in montane forests of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA?

Authored by K.M.L. Becker; Published 2016

Throughout the Sierra Nevada, nearly a century of fire suppression has altered the tree species composition, forest structure, and fire regimes that were previously characteristic of montane forests. Species composition is fundamentally important because species differ in their tolerances to fire and environmental stressors, and these differences dictate future forest structure and influence fire regime attributes. In some lower montane stands, shade-tolerant, fire-sensitive species have driven a threefold increase in tree density that may intensify the risk of high-severity fire. In upper montane forests, which were historically characterized by longer fire return intervals, the effects of fire exclusion are both less apparent and less studied. Although land managers have been reintroducing fire to lower and upper montane forests for >4 decades, the potentially restorative effects of these actions on species composition remain largely unassessed. We used tree diameter and species data from 51 recently burned and 46 unburned plots located throughout lower and upper montane forests in Yosemite National Park and Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks to examine the effects of low-to moderate-severity (hereafter, lower-severity) fire on the demography of seven prevalent tree species. The density of Abies concolor <30 cm diameter at breast height (dbh) was significantly lower in burned plots than unburned plots; densities of A. concolor 30–45 cm dbh, A. magnifica <30 cm dbh, and Calocedrus decurrens <15 cm dbh were lower in burned plots than unburned plots at a marginal level of significance. These diameter thresholds represent the maximum size at
which each species is likely to experience significant mortality from lower-severity fire. We overlaid these thresholds on historical and contemporary diameter distributions to show that: (1) lower-severity fire has reduced mean tree density to historical levels for A. concolor but not for C. decurrens, and (2) variability in tree density among plots that burned at lower severity exceeded the range of tree densities reported in historical data sets. High proportions of shade-tolerant species in some postfire stands may increase the prevalence of shade-tolerant species in the future, a potential concern for managers who seek to minimize ladder fuels and promote forest structure that is less prone to high-severity fire.


Human exposure and sensitivity to globally extreme wildfire events

Authored by D.M.J.S. Bowman; Published 2017

Extreme wildfires have substantial economic, social and environmental impacts, but there is uncertainty whether such events are inevitable features of the Earth’s fire ecology or a legacy of poor management and planning. We identify 478 extreme wildfire events defined as the daily clusters of fire radiative power from MODIS, within a global 10 × 10 km lattice, between 2002 and 2013, which exceeded the 99.997th percentile of over 23 million cases of the ΣFRP 100 km−2 in the MODIS record. These events are globally distributed across all flammable biomes, and are strongly associated with extreme fire weather conditions. Extreme wildfire events reported as being economically or socially disastrous (n = 144) were concentrated in suburban areas in flammable-forested biomes of the western United States and southeastern Australia, noting potential biases in reporting and the absence of globally comprehensive data of fire disasters. Climate change projections suggest an increase in days conducive to extreme wildfire events by 20 to 50% in these disaster-prone landscapes, with sharper increases in the subtropical Southern Hemisphere and European Mediterranean Basin.


Pollinators in Managed Forest Landscapes

Please join us for this one-day event at Oregon State University in Corvallis. Listen to presentations from leaders in pollinator research and participate in a collaborative discussion with land managers to develop a research agenda for pollinators in managed forests of the western US.

Presentation topics will include the effects of wildfire, salvage logging, invasive species, and herbicide use on native pollinators such as bees and butterflies.

This event is FREE, but registration is required! Register now!

 


Bridging the gap: Joint Fire Science Program Outcomes

Authored by S.W. Barrett; Published 2017

The Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) has funded an impressive number of research projects over the years. However, the number of projects does not necessarily provide an accurate picture of the program’s effectiveness. Over the last decade, researchers have collected data and conducted several studies to determine whether the results of JFSP-funded projects are reaching potential users and informing management decisions and actions. Those studies have helped identify issues and influence changes within the program. Early studies pointed out the need for a boundary-spanning organization to improve delivery of science information, which resulted in the establishment of the Fire Science Exchange Network. They also identified other issues pertaining to access to and exchange of science information, which led to improvements by members within the network. While some studies showed that JFSP-funded research is being used for planning and for supporting treatment prescriptions, they also identified barriers that prevent greater use of fire science information by the broader fire management community. These outcomes studies are an important tool to help the JFSP address those barriers and continue to make program improvements.


Westside Fire Regime Summit

Fire in the Pacific Northwest - Past, Present, & Future

Implications for ecology, operations, and restoration west of the crest of the Cascade Mountains

Join us for a summit on the state of knowledge and available research on fire regimes for forests and grasslands west of the Cascade Range in Oregon and Washington. The summit will provide an opportunity for dialog and interaction between participants, discussion of shared field experiences, and will feature key speakers from the field of fire ecology. The target audience for this event is federal and state land managers, private forest land managers, fire managers, fuel specialists, collaborative groups in the wildland-urban interface, extension faculty, and other technical service providers and educators.

 

This summit will bring together fire professionals, land managers, collaboratives & communities, researchers, scientists, and outreach specialists to:

  1. Learn, review and discuss the available science on Westside fire regimes and implication for forest, woodland and grassland management, community preparedness and, where appropriate, restoration needs and current activities;
    • Understanding the historical, current, and future role of fire in Westside systems
    • Discuss the opportunities and barriers of using fire as a tool to accomplish restoration and restoring the process of fire
    • Understanding what changes are occurring in Westside fire regimes
  2. Identify challenges and research gaps;
  3. Determine strategies/tools to assist land managers and communities in the WUI

 

Register now!

Registration is $225. 
This includes all workshop materials, refreshments and meals
during breaks, and the opening reception on May 24th.


Bridging the divide between fire safety research and fighting fire safely: how do we convey research innovation to contribute more effectively to wildland firefighter safety?

Authored by T. Adams; Published 2017

Creating a safe workplace for wildland firefighters has long been at the centre of discussion for researchers and practitioners. The goal of wildland fire safety research has been to protect operational firefighters, yet its contributions often fall short of potential because much is getting lost in the translation of peer-reviewed results to potential and intended users. When information that could enhance safety is not adopted by individuals, the potential to improve safety – to decipher the wildland fire physical or social environment and to recognise hazards – is lost. We use firefighter safety-zone research as a case study to examine how primary research is, and could be, transferred to fire managers, policy-makers and firefighters. We apply four core communication theories (diffusion, translation, discourse and media richness) to improve knowledge transfer.


Quantifying the effect of elevation and aspect on fire return intervals in the Canadian Rocky Mountains

Authored by M.P. Rogeau; Published 2017

The effect of topography on wildfire distribution in the Canadian Rockies has been the subject of debate. We suspect the size of the study area, and the assumption fire return intervals are distributed as a Weibull distribution used in many previous studies may have obscured the real effect of topography on these fire-regulated ecosystems. The objective of this study was to quantify the effects of elevation, aspect, slope and dominant species on probabilities of burning. The study area covered three natural subregions: Subalpine, Montane, and Upper Foothills of the Rocky Mountains of southern Alberta, Canada. Fire return interval (FRI) data from 870 fire history sampling sites were stratified by subregion and analyzed with the non-parametric Kaplan-Meier survival model and Cox Proportional Hazards (PH) regression model for survival data. The natural subregions were found to have distinct FRI distributions. The Kaplan-Meier probability median historical (pre-1948) FRI values ranged from 26 to 35 years for the Montane, was 39 years for the Upper Foothills and ranged between 65 and 85 years for the Subalpine. Within each subregion elevation was the lead predictor variable influencing probabilities of burning, and its significant PH ratio indicated the effect of elevation was maintained through time. For every 100 m of increased elevation, the probability of burning decreased by 12%, 21% and 33% for the Montane, Upper Foothills and Subalpine, respectively. Aspect was only significant in the Subalpine with a PH ratio indicating warm aspects are twice as likely (105%) to burn than cool aspects. The combined topographic elements of high elevation and cool aspect produce the longest FRIs and are where fire refugia (old growth) tend to form. A salient finding of our study was the multiplicative effect that cool aspect has on burning probabilities of forests located at low or high elevation, as well as the interchangeable effect of some topographic combinations in the Subalpine. Our findings do not support the established assumptions from previous studies that the Little Ice Age was responsible for a change in the burning rate, nor that probabilities of burning are spatially homogeneous in mountain landscapes. The combined effect of aspect and elevation on FRIs need to be integrated when writing fire prescriptions for ecological restoration, and be part of adaptive forest management strategies working towards maintaining fire refugia patches. Timber managers aiming to emulate natural disturbances will also need to consider the effect of topography when planning seral stage distributions in mountainous landscapes.


Climate change and the eco-hydrology of fire: will area burned increase in a warming western USA?

Authored by D. McKenzie; Published 2017

Wildfire area is predicted to increase with global warming. Empirical statistical models and process-based simulations agree almost universally. The key relationship for this unanimity, observed at multiple spatial and temporal scales, is between drought and fire. Predictive models often focus on ecosystems in which this relationship appears to be particularly strong, such as mesic and arid forests and shrublands with substantial biomass such as chaparral. We examine the drought-fire relationship, specifically the correlations between water-balance deficit and annual area burned, across the full gradient of deficit in the western USA, from temperate rainforest to desert. In the middle of this gradient, conditional on vegetation (fuels), correlations are strong, but outside this range the equivalence hotter and drier equals more fire either breaks down or is contingent on other factors such as previous-year climate. This suggests that the regional drought-fire dynamic will not be stationary in future climate, nor will other more complex contingencies associated with the variation in fire extent. Predictions of future wildfire area therefore need to consider not only vegetation changes, as some dynamic vegetation models now do, but also potential changes in the drought–fire dynamic that will ensue in a warming climate.


Assessment of wildland fire impacts on watershed annual water yield: Analytical framework and case studies in the United States

Authored by D.W. Hallema; Published 2016

More than 50% of water supplies in the conterminous United States originate on forestland or rangeland, and are potentially under increasing stress as a result of larger and more severe wildfires. Little is known however about the long-term impacts of fire on annual water yield, and the role of climate variability within this context. We here propose a framework for evaluating wildland fire impacts on streamflow that combines double-mass analysis with new methods (change point analysis, climate elasticity modeling, and process-based modeling) to distinguish between multi-year fire and climate impacts. The framework captures a wide range of fire types, watersheds characteristics and climate conditions using streamflow data, as opposed to other approaches requiring paired watersheds. The process is illustrated with three case studies. A watershed in Arizona experienced a +266% increase in annual water yield in the 5 years after a wildfire, where +219% was attributed to wildfire and +24% to precipitation trends. In contrast, a California watershed had a lower (-64%) post-fire net water yield, comprised of enhanced flow (+38%) attributed to wildfire offset (-102%) by lower precipitation in the post-fire period. Changes in streamflow within a watershed in South Carolina had no apparent link to periods of prescribed burning but matched a very wet winter and reports of storm damage. The presented framework is unique in its ability to detect and quantify fire or other disturbances, even if the date or nature of the disturbance event is uncertain, and regardless of precipitation trends.


Efficacy of resource objective wildfires for restoration of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests in northern Arizona

Authored by D.W. Huffman; Published 2017

Current conditions in dry forests of the western United State have given rise to policy mandates for accelerated ecological restoration on U.S. National Forest System and other public lands. In southwestern ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Laws.) forests, mechanized tree thinning and prescribed fire are common restoration treatments but are not acceptable for all sites. Currently there is much interest in managing naturally ignited fires to accomplish restoration objectives but few studies have systematically examined the efficacy of such “resource objective” wildfires for restoring historical ranges of variability (HRV). In this study we used field plots to retrospectively sample 10 resource objective fires on two national forests in northern Arizona. We used four burn severity classes identified on Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) maps to stratify field sampling and compared post-fire means for 12 structure and hazardous fuels attributes to HRV and guidelines for ecosystem management. Results indicated significant differences among burn severity classes in tree density, basal area, coarse wood loads, canopy cover, and canopy fuel loads. Furthermore, areas classified as moderate (M) burn severity met HRV ranges for more attributes (67%) than did other areas in other severity classes. High (H) severity areas were within HRV for the fewest (17%) of the 12 attributes. Restoration ranges for large snag density, tree patch density and maximum patch size, and tree diameter distribution were not met within any burn severity class. Resource objective fire landscapes were comprised mainly (85%) of areas classified as unburned/low (U/L) and low (L) burn severity, whereas the M severity class made up just 12% of fire landscapes on average. Overall effectiveness of resource objective fires for meeting restoration objectives was 42%. Results suggested that effectiveness may be increased by managing for proportionally more moderate burn severity on these landscapes. For this, managers will be required to accept greater risk in terms of escaped fires and high-severity fire, which, in turn, will necessitate increasing public awareness of the potential benefits and limitations of managing wildfires for restoring ponderosa pine forest ecosystems.


Understanding the effect of large wildfires on residents' well-being: what factors influence wildfire impact?

Authored by T.B. Paveglio; Published 2016

Existing social science has indicated that wildfires can affect the short- and long-term functioning of social systems. Less work has focused on how wildfire events affect the physical and psychological well-being of individual residents impacted by such events. In this study, we explore the extent to which personal- or community-level impacts, biophysical characteristics of a wildfire, and resident expectations about wildfire influence residents' self-reported well-being following such events. In fall 2013, we surveyed residents who were potentially impacted by 25 wildfires in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana. Multivariate regression was used to determine the influences on wildfire impact to resident well-being, and hierarchical linear modeling (HLM) was used to test for variance in impacts to resident well-being across the 25 fires selected. The results suggest that a loss of connection to the landscape postfire, personal impacts such as damage to property, residents' expectations about wildfire impact in their locality, and disruption of resident routines were highly correlated with self-reported well-being after fires. Results of the HLM analysis suggest a high level of consistency in the relationships that influenced well-being across the 25 fires. Our findings indicate that common metrics could be used to help establish baselines for measuring impacts to well-being from fires.