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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.

Learn more about NWFSC...

JFSP Regions


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


Oregon Smoke Management Update presented by Nick Yonker with the Oregon Department of Forestry

Hot Topics

Wildland firefighter smoke exposure and risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality

Authored by K.M. Navarro; Published 2019

Wildland firefighters are exposed to wood smoke, which contains hazardous air pollutants, by suppressing thousands of wildfires across the U. S. each year. We estimated the relative risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality from existing PM2.5 exposure-response relationships using measured PM4 concentrations from smoke and breathing rates from wildland firefighter field studies across different exposure scenarios. To estimate the relative risk of lung cancer (LC) and cardiovascular disease (CVD) mortality from exposure to PM2.5 from smoke, we used an existing exposure-response (ER) relationship. We estimated the daily dose of wildfire smoke PM2.5 from measured concentrations of PM4, estimated wildland firefighter breathing rates, daily shift duration (hours per day) and frequency of exposure (fire days per year and career duration). Firefighters who worked 49 days per year were exposed to a daily dose of PM4 that ranged from 0.15 mg to 0.74 mg for a 5- and 25-year career, respectively. The daily dose for firefighters working 98 days per year of PM4 ranged from 0.30 mg to 1.49 mg. Across all exposure scenarios (49 and 98 fire days per year) and career durations (5–25 years), we estimated that wildland firefighters were at an increased risk of LC (8 percent to 43 percent) and CVD (16 percent to 30 percent) mortality. This unique approach assessed long term health risks for wildland firefighters and demonstrated that wildland firefighters have an increased risk of lung cancer and cardiovascular disease mortality.

Assessing relative differences in smoke exposure from prescribed, managed, and full suppression wildland fire

Authored by D.W. Schweizer; Published 2019

A novel approach is presented to analyze smoke exposure and provide a metric to quantify health-related impacts. Our results support the current understanding that managing low-intensity fire for ecological benefit reduces exposure when compared to a high-intensity full suppression fire in the Sierra Nevada of California. More frequent use of fire provides an opportunity to mitigate smoke exposure for both individual events and future emission scenarios. The differences in relative exposure between high-intensity, low-intensity, and prescribed burn were significant (P value < 0.01). Suppressing fire not only appears to shift the health burden of the emissions to a future date but also increases the intensity and number of people exposed in a single exposure. Increased use of ecologically beneficial fire may further be optimized to reduce human exposure through advantageous use of good dispersal conditions and incorporating a mitigation strategy that includes poor dispersal when smoke is largely over wilderness or other natural areas. Accepting naturally occurring fire typical of the environmental system benefits forest health and reduces public exposure to smoke.

Prescribed fire regimes subtly alter ponderosa pine forest plant community structure

Authored by B.K. Kerns; Published 2018

Prescribed fire is an active management tool used to address wildfire hazard and ecological concerns associated with fire exclusion and suppression over the past century. Despite widespread application in the United States, there is considerable inconsistency and lack of information regarding the extent to which specific outcomes are achieved and under what prescribed fire regimes, particularly in regard to ecological goals related to plant community structure. We quantify differences and patterns in plant functional group abundance, species richness and diversity, and other key forest components through time from a unique long-term (15-yr) experiment within the Malheur National Forest of Oregon. Treatments included five fire regimes: fall and spring 5-yr burning, fall and spring single burn, and no burning. Original burns were conducted in the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998, and plant data were collected every five years starting in 2002. Many perennial plant group responses were neutral, subtle, and ephemeral. Total cover increased marginally in response to the first burn, but this response disappeared within a decade. Three 5-yr reburns did not increase or decrease total plant cover, richness, or diversity. Some plant groups with fire resistant and resilient traits, such as annual forbs, exotic forbs, open bunchgrasses, and rhizomatous and resprouting perennials, showed some short-term positive responses to initial burning and 1–2 reburns, but not 3. The moderately more severe fall burns generally impacted plant responses more than spring burning, but many patterns were legacies from the original higher severity burns. Burn frequency was more important for less severe spring burning. Overall, we document that most native perennial plant functional groups were able to resist or recover from burning and reburning, but did not necessarily strongly respond. This may be due to the importance of other overriding forcing factors and ecosystem inertia not easily overcome by very low-severity prescribed burns. Results from our study are important for practitioners using prescribed fire to achieve biodiversity, conservation, and habitat goals that hinge on a vigorous native perennial plant response, as such outcomes are not certain even with frequent burn regimes.

Oregon Smoke Management Plan Update

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium & Oregon Department of Forestry

Nick Yonker, Oregon Department of Forestry, presents the updates to the Oregon Smoke Management Plan. Watch the video on our YouTube channel.

Examining post-fire vegetation recovery with Landsat time series analysis in three western North American forest types

Authored by B.C. Bright; Published 2019

Background: Few studies have examined post-fire vegetation recovery in temperate forest ecosystems with Landsat time series analysis. We analyzed time series of Normalized Burn Ratio (NBR) derived from LandTrendr spectral-temporal segmentation fitting to examine post-fire NBR recovery for several wildfires that occurred in three different coniferous forest types in western North America during the years 2000 to 2007. We summarized NBR recovery trends, and investigated the influence of burn severity, post-fire climate, and topography on post-fire vegetation recovery via random forest (RF) analysis.

Results: NBR recovery across forest types averaged 30 to 44% five years post fire, 47 to 72% ten years post fire, and 54 to 77% 13 years post fire, and varied by time since fire, severity, and forest type. Recovery rates were generally greatest for several years following fire. Recovery in terms of percent NBR was often greater for higher-severity patches. Recovery rates varied between forest types, with conifer−oak−chaparral showing the greatest NBR recovery rates, mixed conifer showing intermediate rates, and ponderosa pine showing slowest rates. Between 1 and 28% of patches had recovered to pre-fire NBR levels 9 to 16 years after fire, with greater percentages of low-severity patches showing full NBR recovery. Precipitation decreased and temperatures generally remained the same or increased post fire. Pre-fire NBR and burn severity were important predictors of NBR recovery for all forest types, and explained 2 to 6% of the variation in post-fire NBR recovery. Post-fire climate anomalies were also important predictors of NBR recovery and explained an additional 30 to 41% of the variation in post-fire NBR recovery.

Conclusions: Landsat time series analysis was a useful means of describing and analyzing post-fire vegetation recovery across mixed-severity wildfire extents. We demonstrated that a relationship exists between post-fire vegetation recovery and climate in temperate ecosystems of western North America. Our methods could be applied to other burned landscapes for which spatially explicit measurements of post-fire vegetation recovery are needed.

Tree regeneration following wildfires in the western US: a review

Authored by C. Stevens-Rumann; Published 2019

Background: Wildfires, like many disturbances, can be catalysts for ecosystem change. Given projected climate change, tree regeneration declines and ecosystem shifts following severe wildfires are predicted. We reviewed scientific literature on post-fire tree regeneration to understand where and why no or few trees established. We wished to distinguish sites that won’t regenerate to trees because of changing climate from sites where trees could grow post fire if they had a seed source or were planted, thus supporting forest ecosystem services for society and nature, such as timber supply, habitat, watershed protection, and carbon storage.

Results: Our literature review showed that little to no post-fire tree regeneration was more common in low-elevation, dry forest types than in high-elevation forest types. However, depending on the region and species, low tree regeneration was also observed in high elevation, moist forests. Regeneration densities varied by species and seedling densities were attributed to distances to a seed source, water stress or precipitation, elevation, slope, aspect, and plant competition. Our findings provide land managers with two primary considerations to offset low tree regeneration densities. First, we supply a decision support tool of where to plant tree seedling in large high severity burned patches. Second, we recommend possibilities for mitigating and limiting large high severity burned patches to increase survival of trees to be sources of seed for natural regeneration.

Conclusions: Few or no tree seedlings are establishing on some areas of the 150+ forest fires sampled across western US, suggesting that forests may be replaced by shrublands and grasslands, especially where few seed source trees survived the wildfires. Key information gaps on how species will respond to continued climate change, repeated disturbances, and other site factors following wildfires currently limit our ability to determine future trends in forest regeneration. We provide a decision tree to assist managers in prioritizing post-fire reforestation. We emphasize prioritizing the interior of large burned patches and considering current and future climate in deciding what, when, and where to plant trees. Finally, managing fires and forests for more seed-source tree survival will reduce large, non-forested areas following wildfires where post-fire management may be necessary.


Exploring the influence of local social context on strategies for achieving Fire Adapted Communities

Authored by T.B. Paveglio; Published 2019

There is a growing recognition that the social diversity of communities at risk from wildland fire may necessitate divergent combinations of policies, programs and incentives that allow diverse populations to promote fire adapted communities (FACs). However, there have been few coordinated research efforts to explore the perceived utility and effectiveness of various options for FACs among residents, professionals, and local officials in disparate communities with different social contexts. The research presented here attempts to systematically explore the combination of local social factors that influence support for coordinated wildfire risk management across locations. We conducted 19 interactive focus groups across five communities spanning five Western U.S. states using a mixed-method design that allowed for the collection of quantitative and qualitative data. Results indicate a number of significant differences in effectiveness ratings for adaptation approaches across communities, including requirement of vegetation mitigations on private properties, fostering Firewise communities, and zoning efforts in fire-prone areas. We used qualitative data to help explain the differences between communities as a function of unique local social context operating in each location. We also compare our results with existing frameworks promoting community “archetypes” to evaluate their continued use in wildfire management planning or response.

Understory vascular plant responses to retention harvesting with and without prescribed fire

Authored by C.M.A. Franklin; Published 2019

Wildfire is the predominant natural disturbance in the boreal forests of western Canada. Natural disturbance-based forest management involves the use of retention harvesting to retain stand structural diversity post-harvest; however, this partial harvesting technique does not cause combustion of the forest floor as does fire. Application of prescribed burning to areas treated with retention harvesting might emulate the influence of wildfires more effectively than harvesting alone. We compared understory vascular plant diversity, abundance, and composition between forest stands subjected to dispersed retention harvesting (10% retention) with and without prescribed burning one year, six years, and 11-12 years post-burn. Untreated forest was included as a reference. Research was conducted in conifer-dominated, mixedwood, and deciduous-dominated boreal forest stands in northwestern Alberta, Canada. In deciduous-dominated stands, burned areas of retention harvested stands had higher species richness and greater cover than did unburned areas. In all three forest cover types, effects of harvest with and without burn on species richness, cover, and composition were still evident a decade after disturbance. Fire-adapted species benefited most from the prescribed burn treatment. The combination of prescribed burning with retention harvesting can be considered a useful option in forest management that aims to emulate natural disturbance.

We’re not doing enough prescribed fire in the western United States to mitigate wildfire risk

Authored by C.A. Kolden; Published 2019

Prescribed fire is one of the most widely advocated management practices for reducing wildfire hazard and has a long and rich tradition rooted in indigenous and local ecological knowledge. The scientific literature has repeatedly reported that prescribed fire is often the most effective means of achieving such goals by reducing fuels and wildfire hazard and restoring ecological function to fire-adapted ecosystems in the United States (US) following a century of fire exclusion. This has translated into calls from scientists and policy experts for more prescribed fire, particularly in the Western US, where fire activity has escalated in recent decades. The annual extent of prescribed burning in the Western US remained stable or decreased from 1998 to 2018, while 70% of all prescribed fire was completed primarily by non-federal entities in the Southeastern US. The Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) was the only federal agency to substantially increase prescribed fire use, potentially associated with increased tribal self-governance. This suggests that the best available science is not being adopted into management practices, thereby further compounding the fire deficit in the Western US and the potential for more wildfire disasters.

Wildland urban interface wildfire mitigation desk reference guide, PMS 051

Authored by ; Published 2019

The WUI Wildfire Mitigation Desk Reference Guide provides basic background information on relevant programs and terminology for individuals seeking to enhance their community's wildfire mitigation efforts.

Mitigation happens at all levels - local, state, tribal, and federal.  Use this guide to aid in a combined approach to help achieve fire adapted communities.