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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.

The Joint Fire Science Program

Funding Opportunity Announcement for Graduate Research Innovation (GRIN) awards for FY18

This announcement closes on May 30, 2018

Hot Topics

Cumulative effects of wildfires on forest dynamics in the eastern Cascade Mountains, USA

Authored by M.J. Reilly; Published 2018

Wildfires pose a unique challenge to conservation in fire‐prone regions, yet few studies quantify the cumulative effects of wildfires on forest dynamics (i.e., changes in structural conditions) across landscape and regional scales. We assessed the contribution of wildfire to forest dynamics in the eastern Cascade Mountains, USA from 1985 to 2010 using imputed maps of forest structure (i.e., tree size and canopy cover) and remotely sensed burn severity maps. We addressed three questions: (1) How do dynamics differ between the region as a whole and the unburned portion of the region? (2) How do dynamics vary among vegetation zones differing in biophysical setting and historical fire frequency? (3) How have forest structural conditions changed in a network of late successional reserves (LSRs)? Wildfires affected 10% of forests in the region, but the cumulative effects at this scale were primarily slight losses of closed‐canopy conditions and slight gains in open‐canopy conditions. In the unburned portion of the region (the remaining 90%), closed‐canopy conditions primarily increased despite other concurrent disturbances (e.g., harvest, insects). Although the effects of fire were largely dampened at the regional scale, landscape scale dynamics were far more variable. The warm ponderosa pine and cool mixed conifer zones experienced less fire than the region as a whole despite experiencing the most frequent fire historically. Open‐canopy conditions increased slightly in the mixed conifer zone, but declined across the ponderosa pine zone even with wildfires. Wildfires burned 30% of the cold subalpine zone, which experienced the greatest increase in open‐canopy conditions and losses of closed‐canopy conditions. LSRs were more prone to wildfire than the region as a whole, and experienced slight declines in late seral conditions. Despite losses of late seral conditions, wildfires contributed to some conservation objectives by creating open habitats (e.g., sparse early seral and woodland conditions) that otherwise generally decreased in unburned landscapes despite management efforts to increase landscape diversity. This study demonstrates the potential for wildfires to contribute to regional scale conservation objectives, but implications for management and biodiversity at landscape scales vary geographically among biophysical settings, and are contingent upon historical dynamics and individual species habitat preferences.

Land surveys show regional variability of historical fire regimes and dry forest structure of the western United States

Authored by W.L. Baker; Published 2018

An understanding of how historical fire and structure in dry forests (ponderosa pine, dry mixed conifer) varied across the western United States remains incomplete. Yet, fire strongly affects ecosystem services, and forest restoration programs are underway. We used General Land Office survey reconstructions from the late 1800s across 11 landscapes covering ~1.9 million ha in four states to analyze spatial variation in fire regimes and forest structure. We first synthesized the state of validation of our methods using 20 modern validations, 53 historical cross‐validations, and corroborating evidence. These show our method creates accurate reconstructions with low errors. One independent modern test reported high error, but did not replicate our method and made many calculation errors. Using reconstructed parameters of historical fire regimes and forest structure from our validated methods, forests were found to be non‐uniform across the 11 landscapes, but grouped together in three geographical areas. Each had a mixture of fire severities, but dominated by low‐severity fire and low median tree density in Arizona, mixed‐severity fire and intermediate to high median tree density in Oregon‐California, and high‐severity fire and intermediate median tree density in Colorado. Programs to restore fire and forest structure could benefit from regional frameworks, rather than one size fits all.

Wildfires managed for restoration enhance ecological resilience

Authored by A.M.G. Barros; Published 2018

Expanding the footprint of natural fire has been proposed as one potential solution to increase the pace of forest restoration programs in fire‐adapted landscapes of the western USA. However, studies that examine the long‐term socio‐ecological trade‐offs of expanding natural fire to reduce wildfire risk and create fire resilient landscapes are lacking. We used the model Envision to examine the outcomes that might result from increased area burned by what we call “restoration” wildfire in a landscape where the ecological benefits of wildfire are known, but the need to suppress high‐risk fires that threaten human values is also evident. Our study area, in the eastern Cascades of Oregon, USA, includes the Deschutes National Forest where large tracts of mixed conifer forest structure are outside the historical range of variation and characterized by multi‐layer, closed‐canopy stands. We found that simulation of one restoration wildfire per year in addition to high‐risk wildfires in the regular fire season and over the course of 50 yr resulted in a 23% increase in total area burned, but the same probability of fire‐on‐fire interactions. This translated into 0.3% of the national forest burned by restoration wildfire per year and had a small impact in area burned by high‐risk fires albeit more likely in extreme fire years. Smoke production doubled in the restoration scenario relative to the scenario without restoration wildfire, but still resulted in minimal smoke production in most years. Restoration fires burned with low‐ to mixed‐severity and led to a steady reduction in canopy cover and increase in resilient forest structure in dry‐forest types. Habitat for the federally protected northern spotted owl declined with the inclusion of restoration fire, while habitat for species that use recently burned forest stands (e.g., black‐backed woodpecker) increased. Our results suggest that restoration wildfire can improve forest resilience and contribute to restoration efforts in fire‐adapted forests, but there are trade‐offs (wildlife habitat, smoke, area burned in fire‐sensitive forest types), and the level of restoration fire use we simulated is unlikely to have a significant impact on the occurrence of high‐severity wildfires.

NWCG Smoke Management Guide for Prescribed Fire

Authored by Bet al.; Published 2018

The NWCG Smoke Management Guide for Prescribed Fire contains information on prescribed fire smoke management techniques, air quality regulations, smoke monitoring, modeling, communication, public perception of prescribed fire and smoke, climate change, practical meteorological approaches and smoke tools. The primary focus of this document is to serve as the textbook in support of NWCG’s RX-410, Smoke Management Techniques course which is required for the position of Prescribed Fire Burn Boss Type 2 (RXB2) The Guide is useful to all who use prescribed fire, from private land owners to federal land managers, with practical tools, and underlying science. Many chapters are helpful for addressing air quality impacts from wildfires. It is intended to assist those who are following the guidance of the NWCG’s Interagency Prescribed Fire Planning and Implementation Procedures Guide, PMS 484, in planning for, and addressing, smoke when conducting prescribed fires.

For a glossary of relevant terminology, consult the NWCG Glossary of Wildland Fire Terminology at https://www.nwcg.gov/glossary/a-z. For smoke management and air quality terms not commonly used by NWCG, consult the Smokepedia at https://www.frames.gov/partner-sites/emissions-and-smoke/educational-res....

Smoke Tools and Information for Prescribed Fire and Wildfire

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Susan M. O’Neill, Air Quality Scientist with the USDA Forest Service PNW Research Station, presented "Smoke Tools and Information for Prescribed Fire and Wildfire." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Fuel Treatment Effectiveness in the Southern Blue Mountains of Oregon

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Brooke Cassell, research assistant at Portland State University, presented "Fuel Treatment Effectiveness in the Southern Blue Mountains of Oregon." Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

The nature of the beast: examining climate adaptation options in forests with stand‐replacing fire regimes

Authored by J.S. Halofsky; Published 2018

Building resilience to natural disturbances is a key to managing forests for adaptation to climate change. To date, most climate adaptation guidance has focused on recommendations for frequent‐fire forests, leaving few published guidelines for forests that naturally experience infrequent, stand‐replacing wildfires. Because most such forests are inherently resilient to stand‐replacing disturbances, and burn severity mosaics are largely indifferent to manipulations of stand structure (i.e., weather‐driven, rather than fuel‐driven fire regimes), we posit that pre‐fire climate adaptation options are generally fewer in these regimes relative to others. Outside of areas of high human value, stand‐scale fuel treatments commonly emphasized for other forest types would undermine many of the functions, ecosystem services, and other values for which these forests are known. For stand‐replacing disturbance regimes, we propose that (1) managed wildfire use (e.g., allowing natural fires to burn under moderate conditions) can be a useful strategy as in other forest types, but likely confers fewer benefits to long‐term forest resilience and climate adaptation, while carrying greater socio‐ecological risks; (2) reasoned fire exclusion (i.e., the suppression component of a managed wildfire program) can be an appropriate strategy to maintain certain ecosystem conditions and services in the face of change, being more ecologically justifiable in long‐interval fire regimes and producing fewer of the negative consequences than in frequent‐fire regimes; (3) low‐risk pre‐disturbance adaptation options are few, but the most promising approaches emphasize fundamental conservation biology principles to create a safe operating space for the system to respond to change (e.g., maintaining heterogeneity across scales and minimizing stressors); and (4) post‐disturbance conditions are the primary opportunity to implement adaptation strategies (such as protecting live tree legacies and testing new regeneration methods), providing crucial learning opportunities. This approach will provide greater context and understanding of these systems for ecologists and resource managers, stimulate future development of adaptation strategies, and illustrate why public expectations for climate adaptation in these forests will differ from those for frequent‐fire forests.

Recovery of ectomycorrhizal fungus communities fifteen years after fuels reduction treatments in ponderosa pine forests of the Blue Mountains, Oregon

Authored by B.T.N. Hart; Published 2018

Managers use restorative fire and thinning for ecological benefits and to convert fuel-heavy forests to fuel-lean landscapes that lessen the threat of stand-replacing wildfire. In this study, we evaluated the long-term impact of thinning and prescribed fire on soil biochemistry and the mycorrhizal fungi associated with ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa). Study sites were located in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon where prescribed fire treatments implemented in 1998 and thinning treatments in 2000 included prescribed fire, mechanical thinning of forested areas, a combination of thinning followed by fire, and an untreated control. Soil sampling for this study occurred in 2014 and included four replications of each treatment for a total of 16 experimental units. Differences among treatments in Bray-P, total C and N, and pH were likely driven by the thinning treatments and the resultant deposition of residual slash following harvesting or the consumption of slash by prescribed fire. Similar litter depths across treatments suggest that litter depth stabilizes over time in these forests. After more than a decade of recovery, mycorrhizal fungi in dry inland forests dominated by ponderosa pine that were subjected to fire returned to levels similar to the untreated controls. The results of this study demonstrate the resiliency of these forests to disturbances associated with restoration treatments, providing managers increased flexibility if maintaining abundant and persistent fungal communities for healthy soils is an objective.