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

Hot Topics


Human-started wildfires expand the fire niche across the United States

Authored by J.K. Balch; Published 2017

Fighting wildfires in the United States costs billions of dollars annually. Public dialog and ongoing research have focused on increasing wildfire risk because of climate warming, overlooking the direct role that people play in igniting wildfires and increasing fire activity. Our analysis of two decades of government agency wildfire records highlights the fundamental role of human ignitions. Human-started wildfires accounted for 84% of all wildfires, tripled the length of the fire season, dominated an area seven times greater than that affected by lightning fires, and were responsible for nearly half of all area burned. National and regional policy efforts to mitigate wildfire-related hazards would benefit from focusing on reducing the human expansion of the fire niche.


Using an agent-based model to examine forest management outcomes in a fire-prone landscape in Oregon, USA.

Authored by T.A. Spies; Published 2017

Fire-prone landscapes present many challenges for both managers and policy makers in developing adaptive behaviors and institutions. We used a coupled human and natural systems framework and an agent-based landscape model to examine how alternative management scenarios affect fire and ecosystem services metrics in a fire-prone multiownership landscape in the eastern Cascades of Oregon. Our model incorporated existing models of vegetation succession and fire spread and information from original empirical studies of landowner decision making. Our findings indicate that alternative management strategies can have variable effects on landscape outcomes over 50 years for fire, socioeconomic, and ecosystem services metrics. For example, scenarios with federal restoration treatments had slightly less high-severity fire than a scenario without treatment; exposure of homes in the wildland-urban interface to fire was also slightly less with restoration treatments compared to no management. Treatments appeared to be more effective at reducing high-severity fire in years with more fire than in years with less fire. Under the current management scenario, timber production could be maintained for at least 50 years on federal lands. Under an accelerated restoration scenario, timber production fell because of a shortage of areas meeting current stand structure treatment targets. Trade-offs between restoration outcomes (e.g., open forests with large fire-resistant trees) and habitat for species that require dense older forests were evident. For example, the proportional area of nesting habitat for northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis) was somewhat less after 50 years under the restoration scenarios than under no management. However, the amount of resilient older forest structure and habitat for white-headed woodpecker (Leuconotopicus albolarvatus) was higher after 50 years under active management. More carbon was stored on this landscape without management than with management, despite the occurrence of high-severity wildfire. Our results and further applications of the model could be used in collaborative settings to facilitate discussion and development of policies and practices for fire-prone landscapes.


Aligning Smoke Management with Ecological and Public Health Goals

Authored by J.W. Long; Published 2017

Past and current forest management affects wildland fire smoke impacts on downwind human populations. However, mismatches between the scale of benefits and risks make it difficult to proactively manage wildland fires to promote both ecological and public health. Building on recent literature and advances in modeling smoke and health effects, we outline a framework to more directly quantify and compare smoke impacts based on emissions, dispersion, and the size and vulnerability of downwind populations across time and space. We apply the framework in a case study to demonstrate how different kinds of fires in California's Central Sierra Nevada have resulted in very different smoke impacts. Our results indicate that the 257,314-acre Rim Fire of 2013 probably resulted in 7 million person-days of smoke impact across California and Nevada, which was greater than 5 times the impact per burned unit area than two earlier wildfires, Grouse and Harden of 2009, that were intentionally managed for resource objectives within the same airshed. The framework and results suggest strategies and tactics for undertaking larger-scale burns that can minimize smoke impacts, restore forest ecosystems, and reduce the potential for more hazardous wildfire and smoke events.


Going Firewise and Beyond: The USAA Journey

Webinar Event from California Fire Consortium

USAA has been on a 10-year journey to find ways to underwrite homeowners insurance in the WUI.  Find out how USAA came to offer their Firewise discount, the power of positive incentives in spurring homeowners to take action, the importance of diverse organizations adopting consistent jargon-free messaging, and USAA’s efforts to leverage a shared sense of community to promote mitigation with their members.
View More Information and Register Here>


Does the presence of large down wood at the time of a forest fire impact soil recovery?

Authored by J.E. Smith; Published 2017

Fire may remove or create dead wood aboveground, but it is less clear how high severity burning of soils affects belowground microbial communities and soil processes, and for how long. In this study, we investigated soil fungal and bacterial communities and biogeochemical responses of severely burned “red” soil and less severely burned “black” soil from a burned forest on the eastern slope of the Cascade Range in Oregon. Specifically, we examined the effects of burn severity on soil nutrients and microbial communities for 1–4 years after wildfire. Soil nutrients were significantly reduced in red soils. Soil fungi and bacteria, assessed with molecular methods, steadily colonized both burn severities and soil biodiversity increased throughout the study showing that microbial communities seem to have the capacity to quickly adjust to extreme disturbances. Although richness did not vary by soil type, the fungal and bacterial community compositions varied with burn severity. This difference was greatest in the early time points following the fire and decreased with time. However, nutrient-limited conditions of red soils were detected for four years after the wildfire and raise concern about soil productivity at these sites.


Long-Term Fuel Succession in the Sagebrush-Steppe

Schyler A. Reis - M.S. Thesis Defense


Wildland Firefighter Safety: 20 years of chasing urine, blood and muscle on the firelines of the west

Webinar Event from North Atlantic Fire Science Exhange

Dr. Brent Ruby will present his informative webinar on the physiological limits of wildland firefighters and how to address energy loss on the fireline. Learn what you can do to help your colleagues when they become fatigued while fighting fire (and what NOT to do).

Register Here!


Spatiotemporal dynamics of simulated wildfire, forest management, and forest succession in central Oregon, USA.

Authored by A.M.G. Barros; Published 2017

We use the simulation model Envision to analyze long-term wildfire dynamics and the effects of different fuel management scenarios in central Oregon, USA. We simulated a 50-year future where fuel management activities were increased by doubling and tripling the current area treated while retaining existing treatment strategies in terms of spatial distribution and treatment type. We modeled forest succession using a state-and-transition approach and simulated wildfires based on the contemporary fire regime of the region. We tested for the presence of temporal trends and overall differences in burned area among four fuel management scenarios. Results showed that when the forest was managed to reduce fuels it burned less: over the course of 50 years there was up to a 40% reduction in area burned. However, simulation outputs did not reveal the expected temporal trend, i.e., area burned did not decrease progressively with time, nor did the absence of management lead to its increase. These results can be explained as the consequence of an existing wildfire deficit and vegetation succession paths that led to closed canopy, and heavy fuels forest types that are unlikely to burn under average fire weather. Fire (and management) remained relatively rare disturbances and, given our assumptions, were unable to alter long-term vegetation patterns and consequently unable to alter long-term wildfire dynamics. Doubling and tripling current management targets were effective in the near term but not sustainable through time because of a scarcity of stands eligible to treat according to the modeled management constraints. These results provide new insights into the long-term dynamics between fuel management programs and wildfire and demonstrate that treatment prioritization strategies have limited effect on fire activity if they are too narrowly focused on particular forest conditions.


Efficacy of resource objective wildfires for restoring ponderosa pine ecosystems in northern Arizona

Webinar Event from Southwest Fire Science Consortium

Presenter: David Huffman, Ecological Restoration Institute, Northern Arizona University

Historical interruption of frequent surface fire regimes and decades of fire exclusion have resulted in degraded ecological conditions in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests of the American Southwest. Presently, there is much interest in managing natural fire ignitions to achieve restoration objectives across forest landscapes; however, little information is available concerning efficacy of such resource objective wildfires. We randomly selected 10 large resource objective wildfires on the Coconino and Kaibab National Forests, and evaluated their efficacy for meeting restoration targets by comparing 12 attributes of structure, function, and fuels with target value ranges gleaned from published literature. Results indicated that areas of moderate burn severity met more restoration objectives (67%) than those of unburned/low (25%), low (50%), and high severity (17%). Restoration objectives for tree density and canopy cover were only met in areas of moderate burn severity. However, moderate burn severity areas comprised just 12% of fire landscapes on average. Restoration objectives for tree diameter distribution, large snag density, tree patch density, and maximum tree patch size were not met within any of the four discrete burn severity classes. Implications of these findings with respect to future management of wildfires will be discussed. Click here to register NOW!


Adapting fuel treatments in a changing climate - Prescribed fire, mechanical treatments, wildfire, and restoration

Authored by C. Gucker; Published 2016

The Available Science Assessment Project (ASAP) leads, EcoAdapt and Oregon State University’s Institute for Natural Resources, hosted a workshop during the International Association of Wildland Fire’s 5th Fire Behavior and Fuels Conference, in cooperation with the Northwest Fire Science Consortium and the Northern Rockies Fire Science Network. The workshop had managers and scientists build on a systematic map of the literature and results of an earlier scientist workshop. Outcomes from the manager and scientist workshop reflect perspectives of 36 participants from 30 organizations, which included federal and state agencies, tribal governments, non-profits, universities, and other research organizations. The 2016 workshop, in part, explored on-the-ground climate adaptation actions that might be used for fire and fuels management under future climate conditions. Specifically, workshop participants were asked to identify the likely impacts of climate change and what they saw as barriers and potential opportunities for the use of - Prescribed fire, Mechanical fuel treatment, Managed wildfire, and Post-fire restoration (seeding/planting).


Review of broad-scale drought monitoring of forests: Toward an integrated data mining approach

Authored by S.P. Norman; Published 2016

Efforts to monitor the broad-scale impacts of drought on forests often come up short. Drought is a direct stressor of forests as well as a driver of secondary disturbance agents, making a full accounting of drought impacts challenging. General impacts can be inferred from moisture deficits quantified using precipitation and temperature measurements. However, derived meteorological indices may not meaningfully capture drought impacts because drought responses can differ substantially among species, sites and regions. Meteorology-based approaches also require the characterization of current moisture conditions relative to some specified time and place, but defining baseline conditions over large, ecologically diverse regions can be as difficult as quantifying the moisture deficit itself. In contrast, remote sensing approaches attempt to observe immediate, secondary, and longer-term changes in vegetation response, yet they too are no panacea. Remote sensing methods integrate responses across entire mixed-vegetation pixels and rarely distinguish the effects of drought on a single species, nor can they disentangle drought effects from those caused by various other disturbance agents. Establishment of suitable baselines from remote sensing may be even more challenging than with meteorological data. Here we review broad-scale drought monitoring methods, and suggest that an integrated data-mining approach may hold the most promise for enhancing our ability to resolve drought impacts on forests. A big-data approach that integrates meteorological and remotely sensed data streams, together with other datasets such as vegetation type, wildfire occurrence and pest activity, can clarify direct drought effects while filtering indirect drought effects and consequences. This strategy leverages the strengths of meteorology-based and remote sensing approaches with the aid of ancillary data, such that they complement each other and lead toward a better understanding of drought impacts.


Restoring and managing low-severity fire in dry-forest landscapes of the western USA

Authored by W.L. Baker; Published 2017

Low-severity fires that killed few canopy trees played a significant historical role in dry forests of the western USA and warrant restoration and management, but historical rates of burning remain uncertain. Past reconstructions focused on on dating fire years, not measuring historical rates of burning. Past statistics, including mean composite fire interval (mean CFI) and individual-tree fire interval (mean ITFI) have biases and inaccuracies if used as estimators of rates. In this study, I used regression, with a calibration dataset of 96 cases, to test whether these statistics could accurately predict two equivalent historical rates, population mean fire interval (PMFI) and fire rotation (FR). The best model, using Weibull mean ITFI, had low prediction error and R2 adj = 0.972. I used this model to predict historical PMFI/ FR at 252 sites spanning dry forests. Historical PMFI/FR for a pool of 342 calibration and predicted sites had a mean of 39 years and median of 30 years. Short (< 25 years) mean PMFI/FRs were in Arizona and New Mexico and scattered in other states. Long (> 55 years) mean PMFI/FRs were mainly from northern New Mexico to South Dakota. Mountain sites often had a large range in PMFI/FR. Nearly all 342 estimates are for old forests with a history of primarily low-severity fire, found across only about 34% of historical dry-forest area. Frequent fire (PMFI/FR < 25 years) was found across only about 14% of historical dry-forest area, with 86% having multidecadal rates of low-severity fire. Historical fuels (e.g., understory shrubs and small trees) could fully recover between multidecadal fires, allowing some denser forests and some ecosystem processes and wildlife habitat to be less limited by fire. Lower historical rates mean less restoration treatment is needed before beginning managed fire for resource benefits, where feasible. Mimicking patterns of variability in historical lowseverity fire regimes would likely benefit biological diversity and ecosystem functioning.


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

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Antonie Jetter, associate professor in the Dept. of Engineering and Technology Management at Portland State University, presented Understanding Stakeholder Perceptions of Fire with Mental Modelling A case study from Ashland, OR.


Watch the video on our YouTube channel


Decomposition Rates for Hand-Piled Fuels

Authored by C.S. Wright; Published 2017

Hand-constructed piles in eastern Washington and north-central New Mexico were weighed periodically between October 2011 and June 2015 to develop decay-rate constants that are useful for estimating the rate of piled biomass loss over time. Decay-rate constants (k) were determined by fitting negative exponential curves to time series of pile weight for each site. Piles at the Washington site (k = 0.027/year) decomposed significantly more slowly than piles at the New Mexico site (k = 0.064/year). Significant differences in k for each site may be a function of a between-site variation in pile composition (with or without large woody material), the environmental dissimilarities between sites (Mediterranean climate regime in Washington vs. monsoonal climate regime in New Mexico), or a combination of factors.


Forest management scenarios in a changing climate: trade-offs between carbon, timber, and old forest

Authored by M.K. Creutzburg; Published 2016

Balancing economic, ecological, and social values has long been a challenge in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, where conflict over timber harvest and old-growth habitat on public lands has been contentious for the past several decades. The Northwest Forest Plan, adopted two decades ago to guide management on federal lands, is currently being revised as the region searches for a balance between sustainable timber yields and habitat for sensitive species. In addition, climate change imposes a high degree of uncertainty on future forest productivity, sustainability of timber harvest, wildfire risk, and species habitat. We evaluated the long-term, landscape-scale trade-offs among carbon (C) storage, timber yield, and old forest habitat given projected climate change and shifts in forest management policy across 2.1 million hectares of forests in the Oregon Coast Range. Projections highlight the divergence between private and public lands under business-as- usual forest management, where private industrial forests are heavily harvested and many public (especially federal) lands increase C and old forest over time but provide little timber. Three alternative management scenarios altering the amount and type of timber harvest show widely varying levels of ecosystem C and old-forest habitat. On federal lands, ecological forestry practices also allowed a simultaneous increase in old forest and natural early-seral habitat. The ecosystem C implications of shifts away from current practices were large, with current practices retaining up to 105 Tg more C than the alternative scenarios by the end of the century. Our results suggest climate change is likely to increase forest productivity by 30–41% and total ecosystem C storage by 11–15% over the next century as warmer winter temperatures allow greater forest productivity in cooler months. These gains in C storage are unlikely to be offset by wildfire under climate change, due to the legacy of management and effective fire suppression. Our scenarios of future conditions can inform policy makers, land managers, and the public about the potential effects of land management alternatives, climate change, and the trade-offs that are inherent to management and policy in the region.


Living with wildland fire: Lessons from Fort McMurray

Webinar Event from California Fire Consortium

Every year, thousands of small fires and dozens of large ones break out somewhere in Canada.  This has been the story for millenia and will continue as long as there are people and lightning to start fires in the boreal forest.  Now more than ever, people work, build, live, and play in the boreal forest and disaster can occur when people and fire intersect. Last spring's Fort McMurray wildfire was a reminder of how dangerous forest fires can be. It forced the unprecedented evacuation of 90,000 people, caused insurable losses of about $3.8 billion and dampened Canada's GDP for 2016.  Dr. Mike Flannigan will detail what happened in Fort McMurray and what it tells us about coexisting with fire in a flammable landscape.
View More Information and Register Here >


2017 annual meeting of the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council

The 2017 annual meeting of the Oregon Prescribed Fire Council will be held April 18-19 in White City.  This free event is open to anyone interested in prescribed fire and controlled burning. 

This is a great opportunity to hear updates about Oregon's 2017 Smoke Management Plan Review, meet others interested in returning fire to the landscapes in Oregon that need it, see work being done on the ground to improve habitat and reduce wildfire risk at the cooperatively managed Table Rocks area, and learn about prescribed fire training exchanges (TREX) and cooperative burning through partnerships.

Please RSVP by emailing Carrie Berger at Carrie.Berger@oregonstate.edu by Friday, April 7th.

Check back for meeting and lodging details.


Pacific Northwest: Forest Collaboratives Workshop

On March 30-31, 2017, Sustainable Northwest will host the Pacific Northwest Forest Collaboratives Workshop in Hood River, Oregon. The workshop will bring together forest collaborative members, state and federal land management agencies, policy makers, and leading scientists and practitioners to network, share success stories, and develop solutions to forest management challenges.

The meeting agenda is coming soon! 

Click here to register. 

The agenda and the financial aid form can be found at the bottom of this page.

For more information, contact Andrew Spaeth, Forest Program Director, at aspaeth@sustainablenorthwest.org

Location information:

Best Western Hood River Inn

1108 E Marina Drive

Hood River, OR 97031

Accommodations are available on-site by calling (541) 386-2200. Please ask for the Sustainable Northwest room block rate to secure special event pricing. 

The workshop begins at 9:00 AM on Thursday, March 30 and ends at 3:00 PM on Friday, March 31. We look forward to seeing you there!


All Lands Approaches to Fire Management in the Pacific West: A Typology

Authored by S. Charnley; Published 2017

Since 2009, the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service has promoted an “all lands approach” to forest restoration, particularly relevant in the context of managing wildfire. To characterize its implementation, we undertook an inventory of what we refer to as fire-focused all lands management (ALM) projects, defined as projects in which fuels reduction treatments are planned or implemented across more than one landownership to reduce wildfire risk or increase forest resilience to wildfire. We focused on regions of Washington, Oregon, and California dominated by dry, fire-prone forests and documented 41 projects. From this sample we developed a typology with five project categories. We found that ALM takes many forms and occurs in diverse contexts, federal lands and land managers are frequently involved in them, and all projects foster relationship and capacity building for future ALM. Our typology provides a framework for better understanding of all lands approaches and suggests areas for further investigation.


NFPA’s Wildland/Urban Interface: Fire Department Wildfire Preparedness and Readiness Capabilities – Final Report

Authored by H. Haynes; Published 2017

The increasing frequency and intensity of wildland and wildland-urban interface (WUI) fires have become a significant concern in many parts of the United States and around the world. To address and manage this WUI fire risk, local fire departments around the country have begun to acquire the appropriate equipment and offer more training in wildfire response and suppression. There is also growing recognition of the importance of wildfire mitigation and public outreach about community risk reduction. Using survey and interview data from 46 senior officers from local fire departments around the U.S., this report describes how some local fire departments are addressing the wildfire peril in terms equipment, training, fitness, response strategies and tactics, public communication, education, and mitigation activities. The successes and challenges these departments have experienced also show how departments face and overcome barriers to being better prepared and ready to control and mitigate a wildfire incident in their communities.


Rangeland Fire Protection Associations in Oregon and Idaho: Implications for Fire Adaptation and Agency-Community Relationships

What will you learn?

RFPAs are unique partnerships wherein ranchers and the Bureau of Land Management work together to suppress rangeland wildfires. Using four case studies in Oregon and Idaho, we discuss the value and outcomes of this approach, as well as challenges and future implications for fire adaptation on the range.

Presenters:
Jesse Abrams, Research Associate with Ecosystem Workforce Program, Institute for a Sustainable Environment at the University of Oregon and Dr. Emily Jane Davis, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist with Oregon State University

Session Details: Wednesday, June 7th at 10:00am 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!


4th Rustici Rangeland Science Symposium

The goal of the 4th Rustici Rangeland Science Symposium is to engage ranchers, land managers, researchers, and policymakers in co-developing actionable science, policy, and management to sustain rangelands. The symposium will focus on partnerships surrounding a variety of topics, including: sustaining water resources; coping with drought; habitat conservation; and enhancing ranch profitability.
More information and register here > 


Landscape-scale quantification of fire-induced change in canopy cover following mountain pine beetle outbreak and timber harvest

Authored by R. McCarley; Published 2017

Across the western United States, the three primary drivers of tree mortality and carbon balance are bark beetles, timber harvest, and wildfire. While these agents of forest change frequently overlap, uncertainty remains regarding their interactions and influence on specific subsequent fire effects such as change in canopy cover. Acquisition of pre- and post-fire Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data on the 2012 Pole Creek Fire in central Oregon provided an opportunity to isolate and quantify fire effects coincident with specific agents of change. This study characterizes the influence of pre-fire mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) and timber harvest disturbances on LiDAR-estimated change in canopy cover. Observed canopy loss from fire was greater (higher severity) in areas experiencing pre-fire MPB (Δ 18.8%CC) than fire-only (Δ 11.1%CC). Additionally, increasing MPB intensity was directly related to greater canopy loss. Canopy loss was lower for all areas of pre-fire timber harvest (Δ 3.9%CC) than for fire-only, but among harvested areas, the greatest change was observed in the oldest treatments and the most intensive treatments [i.e., stand clearcut (Δ 5.0%CC) and combination of shelterwood establishment cuts and shelterwood removal cuts (Δ 7.7%CC)]. These results highlight the importance of accounting for and understanding the impact of pre-fire agents of change such as MPB and timber harvest on subsequent fire effects in land management planning. This work also demonstrates the utility of multi-temporal LiDAR as a tool for quantifying these landscape-scale interactions.