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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.

Fire Triangle

 

 

Hot Topics


Oregon Prescribed Fire Council Meeting

The Oregon Prescribed Fire Council's annual meeting will be held February 8th and 9th in Corvallis in room 236 at the "old" Peavy Hall on the Oregon State University campus.

February 8th will consist of a council business meeting to finalize an amendment to the by-laws recognizing chapter formation, and chart the course for the council's future. The second day will consist of a field trip to see and learn about burning at Finley National Wildlife Refuge.

There is a block of hotel rooms at the Hilton Garden next to campus for $89/night for February 7-8 for those that want to come Sunday evening and/or stay through Tuesday for the field trip. Reserve your room saying “NASP IMDS” as the group identifier.

Please respond via email to RSVP: oregonrxfirecouncil@gmail.com


Fire effects on aquatic ecosystems: an assessment of the current state of the science

Authored by R.J. Bixby; Published 2015

Fire is a prevalent feature of many landscapes and has numerous and complex effects on geological, hydrological, ecological, and economic systems. In some regions, the frequency and intensity of wildfire have
increased in recent years and are projected to escalate with predicted climatic and landuse changes. In addition, prescribed burns continue to be used in many parts of the world to clear vegetation for development projects,
encourage desired vegetation, and reduce fuel loads. Given the prevalence of fire on the landscape, authors of papers in this special series examine the complexities of fire as a disturbance shaping freshwater ecosystems
and highlight the state of the science. These papers cover key aspects of fire effects that range from vegetation loss and recovery in watersheds to effects on hydrology and water quality with consequences for communities
(from algae to fish), food webs, and ecosystem processes (e.g., organic matter subsidies, nutrient cycling) across a range of scales. The results presented in this special series of articles expand our knowledge of fire effects in different biomes, water bodies, and geographic regions, encompassing aquatic population, community, and ecosystem responses. In this overview, we summarize each paper and emphasize its contributions to knowledge on fire ecology and freshwater ecosystems. This overview concludes with a list of 7 research foci that are needed to further our knowledge of fire effects on aquatic ecosystems, including research on: 1) additional biomes and
geographic regions; 2) additional habitats, including wetlands and lacustrine ecosystems; 3) different fire severities, sizes, and spatial configurations; and 4) additional response variables (e.g., ecosystem processes) 5) over long (>5 y) time scales 6) with more rigorous study designs and data analyses, and 7) consideration of the effects of fire management practices and policies on aquatic ecosystems.


Effects of Drought on Forests and Rangelands in the United States: A Comprehensive Science Synthesis

Authored by J.M. Vose; J.S. Clark; C.H. Luce; T. Patel-Weynand; Published 2016

This assessment provides input to the reauthorized National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) and the National Climate Assessment (NCA), and it establishes the scientific foundation needed to manage for drought resilience and adaptation. Focal areas include drought characterization; drought impacts on forest processes and disturbances such as insect outbreaks and wildfire; and consequences for forest and rangeland values. Drought can be a severe natural disaster with substantial social and economic consequences. Drought becomes most obvious when large-scale changes are observed; however, even moderate drought can have long-lasting impacts on the structure and function of forests and rangelands without these obvious large-scale changes. Large, stand-level impacts of drought are already underway in the West, but all U.S. forests are vulnerable to drought. Drought-associated forest disturbances are expected to increase with climatic change. Management actions can either mitigate or exacerbate the effects of drought. A first principal for increasing resilience and adaptation is to avoid management actions that exacerbate the effects of current or future drought. Options to mitigate drought include altering structural or functional components of vegetation, minimizing drought-mediated disturbance such as wildfire or insect outbreaks, and managing for reliable flow of water.


Restoring fire-prone Inland Pacific landscapes: Seven core principles / Applying principles of landscape restoration within the eastern Cascades

Webinar Event from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Please join Ryan Haugo, Senior Forest Ecologist with The Nature Conservancy & Paul Hessburg, Research Landscape Ecologist with the USDA Forest Service for a joint webinar on Restoring fire-prone Inland Pacific landscapes: Seven core principles / Applying principles of landscape restoration within the eastern Cascades.

Click here to REGISTER!


Before Wildfire Strikes: A Handbook for Homeowners and Communities in Southwest Oregon

Authored by M. Bennett; Published 2015

This is a manual that helps homeowners and neighborhoods prepare their areas and their homes for wildfire. A fire-adapted community is a community located in a fire-prone area that requires little assistance from firefighters during a wildfire. Residents of these communities accept responsibility for living in a high fire-hazard area. They possess the knowledge and skills to prepare their homes and property to survive wildfire; evacuate early, safely and effectively; and survive, if trapped by wildfire.


Fire & fuels ecology and management in riparian areas of the Klamath-Siskiyous: A workshop and field trip for land managers

Save the date!

This 1.5 day workshop will explore key questions surrounding riparian area management in a fire-prone environment.

Click here to REGISTER!


Fire weather conditions and fire-atmosphere interactions observed during low-intensity prescribed fires - RxCADRE 2012

Authored by C.B. Clements; Published 2016

The role of fire-atmosphere coupling on fire behaviour is not well established, and to date few field observations have been made to investigate the interactions between fire spread and fire-induced winds. Therefore, comprehensive field observations are needed to better understand micrometeorological aspects of fire spread. To address this need, meteorological observations were made during the Prescribed Fire Combustion and Atmospheric Dynamics Research Experiment (RxCADRE) field campaign using a suite of meteorological instrumentation to measure both the ambient fire weather conditions and the fire-atmosphere interactions associated with the fires and plumes. Fire-atmosphere interactions are defined as the interactions between presently burning fuels and the atmosphere, in addition to interactions between fuels that will eventually burn in a given fire and the atmosphere (Potter 2012).


Wildfire may increase habitat quality for spring Chinook salmon in the Wenatchee river subbasin, WA, USA

Authored by R.L. Flitcroft; Published 2016

Pacific Northwest salmonids are adapted to natural disturbance regimes that create dynamic habitat patterns over space and through time. However, human land use, particularly long-term fire suppression, has altered the intensity and frequency of wildfire in forested upland and riparian areas. To examine the potential impacts of wildfire on aquatic systems, we developed stream-reach-scale models of freshwater habitat for three life stages (adult, egg/fry, and juvenile) of spring Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) in the Wenatchee River subbasin, Washington. We used variables representing pre- and post-fire habitat conditions and employed novel techniques to capture changes in in-stream fine sediment, wood, and water temperature. Watershed-scale comparisons of high-quality habitat for each life stage of spring Chinook salmon habitat suggested that there are smaller quantities of high-quality juvenile overwinter habitat as compared to habitat for other life stages. We found that wildfire has the potential to increase quality of adult and overwintering juvenile habitat through increased delivery of wood, while decreasing the quality of egg and fry habitat due to the introduction of fine sediments. Model results showed the largest effect of fire on habitat quality associated with the juvenile life stage, resulting in increases in high-quality habitat in all watersheds. Due to the limited availability of pre-fire high-quality juvenile habitat, and increased habitat quality for this life stage post-fire, occurrence of characteristic wildfires would likely create a positive effect on spring Chinook salmon habitat in the Wenatchee River subbasin. We also compared pre- and post-fire model results of freshwater habitat for each life stage, and for the geometric mean of habitat quality across all life stages, using current compared to the historic distribution of spring Chinook salmon. We found that spring Chinook salmon are currently distributed in stream channels in which in-stream habitat for most life stages has a consistently positive response to fire. This compares to the historic distribution of spring Chinook, in which in-stream habitat exhibited a variable response to fire, including decreases in habitat quality overall or for specific life stages. This suggests that as the distribution of spring Chinook has decreased, they now occupy those areas with the most positive potential response to fire. Our work shows the potentially positive link between wildfire and aquatic habitat that supports forest managers in setting broader goals for fire management, perhaps leading to less fire suppression in some situations.


Scanning the Future of Wildfire: Resilience Ahead...Whether We Like It or Not?

Authored by R. Clark; Published 2016

The field of so-called “futures research” provides researchers and stakeholders in a given subject area or system a way to map out and plan for alternate possible scenarios of the future. A recent research project supported by the Joint Fire Science Program brought together futures researchers and wildfire specialists to envision what the future holds for wildfire impacts and how the wildfire community may respond to the complex suite of emerging challenges. The consensus of the project’s foresight panel suggests that an era of resilience is ahead: but that this resilience may come either with a very high cost (after some kind of collapse), in a more systematic way (that is, if the wildfire community plans for, and fosters, resilience), or something in between. In any projected future scenario, the panel suggests that the end of the fire suppression paradigm is imminent and that a new paradigm—one that fosters natural resilience of the system, along with natural wildfire—is arising. A central question emerges from this work: How will the wildfire community respond to this tipping point?


Interactions among spruce beetle disturbance, climate change and forest dynamics captured by a forest landscape model

Authored by C. Temperli; Published 2015

The risk of bark beetle outbreaks is widely predicted to increase because of a warming climate that accelerates temperature-driven beetle population growth and drought stress that impairs host tree defenses. However, few if any studies have explicitly evaluated climatically enhanced beetle population dynamics in relation to climate-driven changes in forest composition and structure that may alter forest suitability for beetle infestation. We synthesized current understanding of the interactions among climate, spruce beetles (Dendroctonus rufipennis) and forest dynamics to parameterize and further advance the bark beetle module of a dynamic forest landscape model (LandClim) that also integrates fire and wind disturbance and climate-driven forest succession. We applied the model to a subalpine watershed in northwestern Colorado to examine the mechanisms and feedbacks that may lead to shifts in forest composition and spruce beetle disturbance under three climate change scenarios. Simulation results suggest increased drought- and beetle-induced reduction of large Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii) trees while Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) increased in dominance throughout the study area under all climate change scenarios. This shift in forest composition and structure counterbalances the enhancing effects of accelerated beetle population development and increased drought-induced susceptibility of spruce to beetles. As a result, we projected a long-term decrease in beetle-induced spruce mortality to below historical values under all climate scenarios at low elevations (<2800 m asl). Beetle-induced spruce mortality above 2800 m asl and under moderate climate change was slightly higher and more variable than under historical conditions but decreased to 36% and 6% of historical values under intermediate and extreme climate change, respectively. Because mechanisms driving beetle disturbance dynamics are similar across different bark beetle species, we argue that the depletion of host trees due to drought and beetle disturbance may also be important in other climate-sensitive beetle-host systems. We advocate for the consideration of climate-driven shifts in forest and disturbance dynamics in devising adaptive management strategies.


NWFSC Fire Facts: What is? Natural Range of Variability

Authored by N.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2016

The Natural Range of Variation is a description of the conditions of an ecosystem over space and time. Read more at: Fire Facts: What is? Natural Range of Variability


Towards a new paradigm in fire severity research using dose-response experiments

Authored by A.M.S. Smith; Published 2016

This study presents an alternative approach to developing severity assessments. A synthesis of challenges using current approaches is presented. The proposed approach links heat transfer dose–response experimental treatments with plant physiology response metrics. The potential of this new approach is demonstrated via a case study.


National Forestry and Wildland Fire Management Conference

Conference Event from Bureau of Indian Affairs

This conference is intended to provide information on the management of the forestry and wildland fire program, with emphasis on both internal and external partnerships which address the maintenance of healthy and productive forests. Additionally, we will work to explore opportunities and strategies focused on the creation of an educated, sustainable workforce.

The target audience for this conference is BIA and Tribal forestry and wildland fire program management and staff.


Post-fire associations of butterfly behavior, occupancy, and abundance with environmental variables and nectar sources in the Sierra Nevada, California

Fire can change the quality of habitat for many taxonomic groups, including butterflies. The abundance of nectar-producing plants, and the volume and concentration of the nectar in those plants, peaks in the initial years following a fire. Laboratory and controlled experiments have demonstrated that butterflies may have preferences for different sugars in those nectar sources, especially sucrose. However, sugar preferences have not been quantified for an assemblage of butterflies in a field setting. In 2014 and 2015, we conducted butterfly and vegetation surveys within the Rim Fire boundary on the Stanislaus National Forest (Tuolumne County, California). We surveyed eight sites throughout the butterfly flight season in both years and four additional sites in 2015. We analyzed the sugar and sucrose masses, and relative proportion of sucrose, in 20 known nectar sources. We found no evidence that intensity of butterfly use was associated with sugar mass or concentration, mass of sucrose, or the relative proportion of sucrose. Instead, butterflies appeared to use any sources that were available to them indiscriminately...


NWFSC Fire Facts: What is? Fire Triangle

Authored by N.W.Fire Scien Consortium; Published 2016

The Fire Triangle is a simple way of understanding the components of fire. Read more at Fire Facts: What is? Fire Triangle.


Employing resilience in the United States Forest Service

Authored by C. Bone; Published 2016

The concept of resilience has permeated the discourse of many land use and environmental agencies in an attempt to articulate how to develop and implement policies concerned with the social and ecological dimensions of natural disturbances. Several distinct definitions of resilience exist, each with its own concepts, focus and contexts related to land use policy and management. This often makes understanding the inherent objectives of policies and related principles challenging. The United States Forest Service (USFS) is one example where ambiguity and uncertainty surrounding the use of resilience permeates the content of documents in various areas of the agency. The objective of this paper is to investigate how the USFS employs the term resilience as a means to communicate strategies for managing forest lands. We perform a content analysis of 121 USFS documents including budgetary justification reports, research findings (i.e., journal articles, book chapters and technical reports), public releases, and newsletters to analyze both the rise and specific use of the term resilience in the USFS. Our analysis, which is guided by definitions of resilience in the social-ecological systems literature, reveals that the ambiguity surrounding the use of resilience in the academic literature is reflected in the content of USFS documents. However, we also find that often criticized versions of resilience (namely engineering resilience) are minimally employed by the USFS, and instead the agency focuses on the notion of ecological resilience in which natural disturbances are seen as an important component of the landscape. In some cases, the USFS employs notions of social-ecological resilience, however, the extent to which specific components of social-ecological resilience are integrated into management strategies appears minimal. The findings from this study suggest that clarity regarding the type and function of resilience needs to improve in USFS documents, and that the agency should evaluate the existing question in the SES literature of resilience of what to what?


Tree mortality based fire severity classification for forest inventories: a Pacific Northwest national forests example

Authored by T.R. Whittier; Published 2016

Determining how the frequency, severity, and extent of forest fires are changing in response to changes in management and climate is a key concern in many regions where fire is an important natural disturbance. In the USA the only national-scale fire severity classification uses satellite image change-detection to produce maps for large (>400 ha) fires, and is generated by the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) program. It is not clear how much forested area burns in smaller fires or whether ground-based fire severity estimates from a statistical sample of all forest lands might provide additional, useful information. We developed a tree mortality based fire severity classification using remeasured tree data from 10,008 plots in a probabilistic survey of National Forests System (NFS) lands in Oregon and Washington, using 8 tree mortality and abundance metrics. We estimate that 12.5% (±0.7% SE) of NFS forest lands in the region experienced a fire event during 1993–2007, with an annual rate of 0.96% (±0.05%). An estimated 6.5% of forest lands burned at High Severity or Moderate Severity; 2.1% burned at Very Low severity or only experienced surface or understory fire. A total of 358 of the 507 burned plots were within the MTBS perimeters, with ∼45% having equivalent severity classifications; but for ∼51% of the plots the MTBS classifications suggested lower severity than the tree-mortality based classes. Based on events recorded on plots and the inventory design, we estimate that 20.9% of the forested NFS lands experiencing fires, either wildfires or prescribed burns, were not in the MTBS maps. Tree mortality based fire severity classifications, combined with remotely-sensed and management information on timing and treatments, could be readily applied to nationally-consistent Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) data to provide improved monitoring of fire effects anywhere in the USA sampled by remeasured FIA inventories.


Insights from wildfire science: a resource for fire policy discussions

Authored by T.L. Schoennagel; Published 2016

Record blazes swept across parts of the US in 2015, burning more than 10 million acres. The four biggest fire seasons since 1960 have all occurred in the last 10 years, leading to fears of a ‘new normal’ for wildfire. Fire fighters and forest managers are overwhelmed, and it is clear that the policy and management approaches of the past will not suffice under this new era of western wildfires. In recent decades, state and federal policymakers, tribes, and others are confronting longer fire seasons (Jolly et al. 2015), more large fires (Dennison et al. 2014), a tripling of homes burned, and a doubling of firefighter deaths (Rasker 2015). Federal agencies now spend $2 to $3 billion annually fighting fires (and in the case of the US Forest Service, over 50% of their budget), and the total cost to society may be up to 30 times more than the direct cost of firefighting. If we want to contain these costs and reduce risks to communities, economies, and natural systems, we can draw on the best available science when designing fire management strategies, as called for in the recent federal report on Wildland Fire Science and Technology. Here, we highlight key science insights that can contribute to the public discourse on wildfire policy and associated management of forests, woodlands, and shrublands. This information is fundamental to decisions that will promote resilient communities and landscapes facing more fire in the future.


Climate-driven changes in forest succession and the influence of management on forest carbon dynamics in the Puget Lowlands of Washington State, USA

Authored by D.M. Laflower; Published 2016

Projecting the response of forests to changing climate requires understanding how biotic and abiotic controls on tree growth will change over time. As temperature and interannual precipitation variability increase, the overall forest response is likely to be influenced by species-specific responses to changing climate. Management actions that alter composition and density may help buffer forests against the effects of changing climate, but may require tradeoffs in ecosystem services. We sought to quantify how projected changes in climate and different management regimes would alter the composition and productivity of Puget Lowland forests in Washington State, USA. We modeled forest responses to four treatments (control, burn-only, thin-only, thin-and-burn) under five different climate scenarios: baseline climate (historical) and projections from two climate models (CCSM4 and CNRM-CM5), driven by moderate (RCP 4.5) and high (RCP 8.5) emission scenarios. We also simulated the effects of intensive management to restore Oregon white oak woodlands (Quercus garryana) for the western gray squirrel (Sciurus griseus) and quantified the effects of these treatments on the probability of oak occurrence and carbon sequestration. At the landscape scale we found little difference in carbon dynamics between baseline and moderate emission scenarios. However, by late-century under the high emission scenario, climate change reduced forest productivity and decreased species richness across a large proportion of the study area. Regardless of the climate scenario, we found that thinning and burning treatments increased the carbon sequestration rate because of decreased resource competition. However, increased productivity with management was not sufficient to prevent an overall decline in productivity under the high emission scenario. We also found that intensive oak restoration treatments were effective at increasing the probability of oak presence and that the limited extent of the treatments resulted in small declines in total ecosystem carbon across the landscape as compared to the thin-and-burn treatment. Our research suggests that carbon dynamics in this system under the moderate emission scenario may be fairly consistent with the carbon dynamics under historical climate, but that the high emission scenario may alter the successional trajectory of these forests.