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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


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

Hot Topics

Megafires: an emerging threat to old-forest species

Authored by G.M. Jones; Published 2016

Increasingly frequent “megafires” in North America's dry forests have prompted proposals to restore historical fire regimes and ecosystem resilience. Restoration efforts that reduce tree densities (eg via logging) could have collateral impacts on declining old-forest species, but whether these risks outweigh the potential effects of large, severe fires remains uncertain. We demonstrate the effects of a 2014 California megafire on an iconic old-forest species, the spotted owl (Strix occidentalis). The probability of owl site extirpation was seven times higher after the fire (0.88) than before the fire (0.12) at severely burned sites, contributing to the greatest annual population decline observed during our 23-year study. The fire also rendered large areas of forest unsuitable for owl foraging one year post-fire. Our study suggests that megafires pose a threat to old-forest species, and we conclude that restoring historical fire regimes could benefit both old-forest species and the dry forest ecosystems they inhabit in this era of climate change.

Near-term probabilistic forecast of significant wildfire events for the Western United States

Authored by H.K. Preisler; Published 2016

Fire danger and potential for large fires in the United States (US) is currently indicated via several forecasted qualitative indices. However, landscape-level quantitative forecasts of the probability of a large fire are currently lacking. In this study, we present a framework for forecasting large fire occurrence – an extreme value event – and evaluating measures of uncertainties that do not rely on distributional assumptions. The statistical model presented here incorporates qualitative fire danger indices along with other location and seasonal specific explanatory variables to produce maps of forecasted probability of an ignition becoming a large fire, as well as numbers of large fires with measures of uncertainties. As an example, 6 years of fire occurrence data from the Western US were used to study the utility of two fire danger indices: the 7-Day Significant Fire Potential Outlook issued by Predictive Services in the US and the National Fire Danger Rating’s Energy Release Component. This exercise highlights the potential utility of the quantitative risk index as a real-time decision support tool that can enhance managers’ abilities to discriminate among planning areas in terms of the likelihood and range of expected significant fire events. The approach is applicable wherever there are archived historical data from both observed fires and fire danger indices.

Expanding the role of prescribed fire on CLFR landscapes

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which established the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) Program, asks that CFLR projects “Facilitate the reduction of wildfire management costs and risks, including through reestablishing natural fire regimes.”

Across the county, CLFR project participants are thinking about this charge and working to expand the role of prescribe fire on project landscapes.

In this upcoming peer learning session we’ll delve further into the role of prescribed fire. With experts in the field of fire science and management, participants will learn about current science around prescribed fire, a case study from the White Mountain Stewardship Project, and resources available to guide prescribed fire management. Speakers will discuss barriers and challenges related to use of prescribed fire and spend time in Q&A with participants. We hope you can attend!

Featured Speakers  

  • Jim Menakis, National Fire Ecologist, Washington Office Fire & Aviation Management, U.S. Forest Service
  • Mark Finney, Research Forester, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Frankie Romero, Fire Use & Fuels Management Specialist, National Interagency Fire Center, U.S. Forest Service
  • Jeremy Human, Forest Fuels Specialist & Fire Staff, Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, U.S. Forest Service

This peer learning session is sponsored by Forest Management of the U.S. Forest Service in cooperation with the National Forest Foundation. To join, you need an internet connection and a phone line. The session starts at 2:00 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time.

RSVP today to reserve your spot!

Audio Conference Details: Conference Number(s): 1-800-576-6614 To join the web conference: http://nationalforestfoundation.adobeconnect.com/join/

Review of the health effects of wildland fire smoke on wildland firefighters and the public

Authored by O. Adetona; Published 2016

Each year, the general public and wildland firefighters in the US are exposed to smoke from wildland fires. As part of an effort to characterize health risks of breathing this smoke, a review of the literature was conducted using five major databases, including PubMed and MEDLINE Web of Knowledge, to identify smoke components that present the highest hazard potential, the mechanisms of toxicity, review epidemiological studies for health effects and identify the current gap in knowledge on the health impacts of wildland fire smoke exposure. Respiratory events measured in time series studies as incidences of disease-caused mortality, hospital admissions, emergency room visits and symptoms in asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease patients are the health effects that are most commonly associated with community level exposure to wildland fire smoke. A few recent studies have also determined associations between acute wildland fire smoke exposure and cardiovascular health end-points. These cardiopulmonary effects were mostly observed in association with ambient air concentrations of fine particulate matter (PM2.5). However, research on the health effects of this mixture is currently limited. The health effects of acute exposures beyond susceptible populations and the effects of chronic exposures experienced by the wildland firefighter are largely unknown. Longitudinal studies of wildland firefighters during and/or after the firefighting career could help elucidate some of the unknown health impacts of cumulative exposure to wildland fire smoke, establish occupational exposure limits and help determine the types of exposure controls that may be applicable to the occupation.

Post-fire morel (Morchella) mushroom abundance, spatial structure, and harvest sustainability

Authored by A.J. Larson; Published 2016

Morel mushrooms are globally distributed, socially and economically important reproductive structures produced by fungi of the genus Morchella. Morels are highly prized edible mushrooms and significant harvests are collected throughout their range, especially in the first year after fire, when some morel species fruit prolifically. Few studies have quantified post-fire morel mushroom abundance, despite their widespread human use. The purpose of this study is to provide the first ever estimate of post-fire morel mushroom abundance in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. Specifically, we estimate the abundance and spatial variability of morel mushrooms across an intensively mapped and measured forest research site during the first growing season following fire.

We conducted this study in the Yosemite Forest Dynamics Plot, a long-term forest research installation located in old-growth mixed-conifer forest of Yosemite National Park, California, USA. We surveyed for morel mushrooms in n = 1119 contiguous circular 3.14 m2 plots arranged along 2240 m of permanently marked, georeferenced transects. We characterized the spatial correlation of morel plots using k category (multicolor) join count statistics. We analyzed spatial correlations at interplot distances up to 9.0 m.

There were 595 morel mushrooms in the 1119 plots we measured. Mushrooms occurred in 17.8% of plots. We estimated a mean standing crop of 1693 morels ha−1 (SE = 155.4 morels ha−1). Morel-occupied plots were strongly and significantly spatially autocorrelated. Most of the spatial correlation among morel-occupied plots was apparent at scales up to 7.0 m, and was strongest at scales <3.0 m.

This study is one of only four that provide unbiased estimates of post-fire morel abundance. Our morel abundance estimates are generally consistent with prior work in high-latitude North American conifer forests. The strong spatial autocorrelation of morel-occupied microsites at scales <7 m indicates that key factors controlling post-fire morel productivity are heterogeneous at small spatial scales. We propose a simple conceptual model to explain this spatial structure that includes spatial variability of pre-fire Morchella colonies; pre-fire vegetation community and fuelbed; fire behavior, intensity, and effects; and soil moisture and temperature. Relatively liberal harvest limits for recreational and subsistence harvesters appear appropriate and sustainable, at least for coniferous forests in the first year following fire. However, intensive commercial harvest, in jurisdictions where it is allowed, may warrant monitoring to assess potential impacts to long-term morel productivity, conflict with recreational harvesters, and non-target effects.

Good fences, good neighbors? Coordination across property boundaries among private landowners

Coordinating land management across property boundaries is important in mixed-ownership forest landscapes because many forest health problems such as wildfire and invasive plants occur on scales larger than individual parcels. Despite the ecological importance of coordinated management, it is rare among private landowners. One possible explanation is that the social risks associated with coordinated management outweigh the benefits given current policies and institutions. We used a qualitative case study approach to investigate coordinated management among private landowners in the US Pacific Northwest and Great Lakes regions. We characterize the social arrangements through which private forest owners pool resources and jointly plan and implement management actions, and we identify factors that contribute to the emergence and success of cooperation by private forest owners. Our findings contribute to theories of cooperation and shed light on the social conditions needed to foster cooperation by private forest owners.

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Wildfire, climate, and perceptions in Northeast Oregon

Authored by L.C. Hamilton; Published 2016

Wildfire poses a rising threat in the western USA, fueled by synergies between historical fire suppression, changing land use, insects and disease, and shifts toward a drier, warmer climate. The rugged landscapes of northeast Oregon, with their historically forest- and resource-based economies, have been one of the areas affected. A 2011 survey found area residents highly concerned about fire and insect threats, but not about climate change. In 2014 we conducted a second survey that, to explore this apparent disconnect, included questions about past and future summertime (fire season) temperatures. Although regional temperatures have warmed in recent decades at twice the global rate, accompanied by increasing dryness and fire risks, the warming itself is recognized by only 40 % of our respondents. Awareness of recent warming proves unrelated to individual characteristics that might indicate experience on the land: old-timer versus newcomer status, year-round versus seasonal residence, and ownership of forested land. Perceptions of past warming and expectations of future warming are more common among younger respondents and less common among Tea Party supporters. The best-educated partisans stand farthest apart. Perceptions about local temperatures that are important for adaptation planning thus follow ideological patterns similar to beliefs about global climate change.

National Climate Change Interpretation and Education Strategy

Authored by N.Park Service; Published 2016

The National Climate Change Interpretation and Education Strategy outlines a systematic approach to communicating about climate change in national parks. It draws from and complements documents such as the 2012 Call to Action and the 2014 Achieving Relevancy in Our Second Century. The strategy aims to help park managers incorporate climate change communication into daily park operations by engaging in place-based climate change interpretation and education. In doing so, we can help individuals forge their own meaningful connections, and obtain the knowledge necessary for making informed personal decisions.

Oregon's State Wood Energy Team: A Grant Program Review

Authored by E.J. Davis; Published 2016

Oregon's State Wood Energy Team (SWET) is a state-level network supported by the United States Forest Service and led by Oregon Department of Forestry. The purpose of the SWET is to bring together experts in biomass energy to support the successful development and implemen-tation of wood energy systems and businesses. One of the Oregon SWET’S activities is a small grant program for project feasibility, engineering, and construction activities. Six grants were awarded in 2013-2015, totaling $204,700. Oregon State Uni-versity conducted an assessment of this program at the SWET’s request in spring 2016 by interview-ing grantees and contractors working on the grants.

NWFSC Research Brief #11: Pathology of Wildfire Risk: A Characterization of Social and Ecological Dimensions

Authored by N.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2016

In this paper, researchers examine the problem of growing wildfire risk through a coupled natural and human systems (CNHS) perspective. They characterized the primary social and ecological dimensions of what they termed a socioecological pathology of wildfire risk in temperate forests, or “a set of complex and problematic interactions among social and ecological systems across multiple spatial and temporal scales.” By paying particular attention to the wildfire risk governance system, which is influenced by both ecological conditions and diverse parties with competing goals, policies, and practices, the authors investigate strategies for reducing wildfire risk.

Weather, fuels, and topography impede wildland fire spread in western US landscapes

Authored by L. Holsinger; Published 2016

As wildland fire activity continues to surge across the western US, it is increasingly important that we understand and quantify the environmental drivers of fire and how they vary across ecosystems. At daily to annual timescales, weather, fuels, and topography are known to influence characteristics such as area burned and fire severity. An understudied facet, however, concerns how these factors inhibit fire spread and thereby contribute to the formation of fire boundaries. We evaluated how weather, fuels, and topography impeded fire spread in four large study areas in the western US, three in the Northern Rockies and one in the Southwest. Weather and fuels were the most important factors in the Northern Rockies, whereas fuels and topography were dominant in the Southwest. Within the categories of weather, fuels, and topography, we also evaluated which specific variables were most influential in impeding fire spread. We explicitly accounted for the presence and age of previous burns within the fuels category. We found that: (1) temperature was the most influential weather variable in the Northern Rockies; (2) previous burns (particularly those that were 65 years old) were moderately to highly influential in all study areas; and (3) valley bottoms and ridgetops were moderately to highly associated with fire boundaries in all study areas. Our results elucidate the regionally varying roles of weather, fuels, and topography in impeding fire spread, emphasizing each ecosystem’s unique biophysical setting and fire regime.