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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.

This week!

Webinar! December 7th at 10am PST

FAC webinar

Creating Fire Adapted Communities: An Interactional Approach

Photo credit: U.S. Forest Service, Coconino National Forest

Hot Topics

Spatially and socially segmenting private landowner motivations, properties, and management: A typology for the wildland urban interface

Authored by M. Nielsen-Pincus; Published 2015

Throughout North America, rapid exurban development is increasing the spatial extent and population density of the wildland urban interface (WUI), exacerbating problems of wildfire risk and biodiversity loss. To address these issues, policy and planning tools need to be targeted toward different types of WUI landowners in the different types of landscape locations they occupy. We developed a typology of WUI landowners in the Willamette Valley foothills of Oregon, USA. We used market segmentation techniques on mail survey data (n = 939) to develop a typology of four types of WUI landowners in the Willamette Valley foothills of Oregon, USA. We identify differences in each type’s land management strategies and property characteristics and use commonly available GIS data to project where different landowner types are likely to occur in the landscape. We conclude with a discussion of the importance of social and spatial heterogeneity in the WUI for strategically targeted policy and planning efforts intended to manage wildfire risk and promote ecological restoration.

Response of understory vegetation to salvage logging following a high-severity wildfire

Authored by E.E. Knapp; Published 2016

Timber is frequently salvage-logged following high-severity stand-replacing wildfire, but the practice is controversial. One concern is that compound disturbances could result in more deleterious impacts than either disturbance individually, with mechanical operations having the potential to set back recovering native species and increase invasion by non-native species. Following the 2002 Cone Fire on the Lassen National Forest, three replicates of five salvage treatments were applied to 15 units formerly dominated by ponderosa pine, covering a range of disturbance intensities from unsalvaged to 100% salvaged. Understory species richness and cover data were collected every two years between 2006 and 2012. Richness of both native and non-native species did not differ among salvage treatments, but both showed strong changes over time. While cover of forbs and graminoids did not differ with salvage treatment, cover of shrubs was significantly reduced at the higher salvage intensities. The three main shrub species are all stimulated to germinate by fire, potentially leaving seedlings vulnerable to any mechanical disturbance occurring immediately postgermination. Many other native perennial species emerge from rhizomes or other deeply buried underground structures and appear to be less affected by salvage harvest. Over time, the plant community in all salvage treatments shifted from dominance by shrubs and forbs to shrubs and grasses. Most of the grasses were native, except Bromus tectorum (cheatgrass), which was found in 4% of measurement quadrats in 2006 and 52% in 2012. Our results indicated that understory vegetation change 4–10 years post-high-severity wildfire appeared to be influenced more strongly by factors other than salvage logging.

Effects of Prescribed Fire on Wildlife and Wildlife Habitat in Selected Ecosystems of North America

Authored by W.M. Block; Published 2016

Prescribed fire is applied widely as a management tool in North America to meet various objectives such as reducing fuel loads and fuel continuity, returning fire to an ecosystem, enhancing wildlife habitats, improving forage, preparing seedbeds, improving watershed conditions, enhancing nutrient cycling, controlling exotic weeds, and enhancing resilience from climate change. Regardless of the particular objective, fire affects ecosystem structure, composition, and function in many ways.

We used a regional approach, focusing on selected vegetation types for our review (Figure 1). Included were southeastern pine (Pinus spp.) and mixed pineoak (Quercus spp.) forests, eastern coastal marshes, midwestern jack pine forests, sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) ecosystems of the interior West, mixed-severity forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, subalpine and montane forests of the Canadian Rockies, southwestern ponderosa pine forests, desert grasslands, and shortgrass steppe ecosystems. We structured each regional account by reviewing historical and current uses of fire, and then discussed fire effects on wildlife and the challenges of using prescribed fire in each system. Prescribed fire affects wildlife in various ways. Population responses by species can be positive, negative, or neutral, short-term or long-term, and they often vary across spatial scales. Whereas prescribed fire can create or maintain habitats for some species, it can also remove or alter conditions in ways that render it unsuitable for other species. Furthermore, a species may benefit from fire in one situation but not another. Given the variations in fire and in species responses, the only real generalization one can make is that exceptions occur. Fire does not occur uniformly across a landscape, instead manifesting as a heterogeneous mosaic that provides habitats for different species, thereby influencing wildlife diversity. Practitioners should try to emulate natural mosaic patterns by designing and implementing a set of prescriptions rather than applying one prescription across a landscape. Social issues, particularly those surrounding smoke and emissions, constrain where, when, and how managers can burn vegetation. Certainly, emissions standards enforced by state and federal environmental agencies limit windows of opportunity for burning. Smoke billowing into human communities is a health concern, especially for people with existing respiratory ailments. Many publics associate smoke with fire and conclude that fire is bad. Progress has been made in educating the public concerning benefits of prescribed fire to both reduce threats of wildfire to people and property and to maintain or enhance ecological communities, but much work remains.

In conclusion, benefits of prescribed fire far outweigh negative effects. The science of prescribed fire continues to provide better information and options for resource managers to incorporate into management plans. Prescribed fire should be applied within a structured adaptive management framework, which requires developing and implementing monitoring systems to evaluate the efficacy of specific fire prescriptions. Depending on monitoring results, prescriptions could be applied elsewhere or adjusted to meet management objectives. Either way, prescribed fire is an important resource management tool that can be effective at maintaining or enhancing habitats for many species of wildlife.

Wildland Urban Interface 2017

The IAFC's Wildland-Urban Interface (WUI) conference offers hands-on training and interactive sessions designed to address the challenges of wildland fire. If you are one of the many people responsible for protecting local forests or educating landowners and your community about the importance of land management—then this is the conference for you.

Get email updates. Sign up to receive conference updates and notifications.

Influence of fire disturbance and biophysical heterogeneity on pre-settlement ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests

Authored by J.D. Johnston; Published 2016

Fire frequency is assumed to have exerted a strong influence on historical forest communities in the inland Pacific Northwest. This study reconstructs forest structure and composition in the year 1890 and fire frequency from 1760 to 1890 at 10 sites spanning a broad productivity gradient in the southern Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. We tested for the relative influence of fire frequency, climate, soils, and topography by fitting variables to ordinations of forest structural and compositional configurations. We also built formal statistical models using non-parametric permutational multivariate analysis of variance. Because fire disturbance and biophysical influences on forest structure and composition may vary depending on the scale at which relationships are examined, we tested the influence of variables at the scale of 4- to 12-ha sites and at the scale of three equal-sized areas within each site. The proportion of fire-intolerant species basal area reconstructed within sites in the year 1890 ranged from 0% to 43%. The proportion of fire-intolerant species basal area reconstructed within equal-sized areas within sites ranged from 0% to 75%. Despite significant differences in historical species composition between and within sites, fire frequencies were relatively similar. Mean fire return intervals (MFRIs) calculated for sites ranged from 10.6 to 21.2 yr. MFRIs calculated for equal-sized areas within sites ranged from 10.6 to 28.8 yr. Fitting fire frequency and biophysical variables to ordinations and model building with perMANOVA showed that topographic position index and vapor pressure deficit had stronger influences on site-scale forest structure and composition than fire frequency metrics. Available soil water was the most important influence on forest structure and composition within equal-sized areas within sites. Relatively frequent fire across a broad range of forest types in the southern Blues appears to have been a relatively uniform influence on forest dynamics modulated by fine-scale biophysical heterogeneity. If return to historical conditions is a goal of management, treatments to reduce fuel and restore frequent fire are appropriate across a broad productivity gradient in the southern Blues.

Spatial variability in tree regeneration after wildfire delays and dampens future bark beetle outbreaks

Authored by R. Seidl; Published 2016

Climate change is altering the frequency and severity of forest disturbances such as wildfires and bark beetle outbreaks, thereby increasing the potential for sequential disturbances to interact. Interactions can amplify or dampen disturbances, yet the direction and magnitude of future disturbance interactions are difficult to anticipate because underlying mechanisms remain poorly understood. We tested how variability in postfire forest development affects future susceptibility to bark beetle outbreaks, focusing on mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) and Douglas-fir beetle (Dendroctonus pseudotsugae) in forests regenerating from the large high-severity fires that affected Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming in 1988. We combined extensive field data on postfire tree regeneration with a well-tested simulation model to assess susceptibility to bark beetle outbreaks over 130 y of stand development. Despite originating from the same fire event, among-stand variation in forest structure was very high and remained considerable for over a century. Thus, simulated emergence of stands susceptible to bark beetles was not temporally synchronized but was protracted by several decades, compared with stand development from spatially homogeneous regeneration. Furthermore, because of fire-mediated variability in forest structure, the habitat connectivity required to support broad-scale outbreaks and amplifying cross-scale feedbacks did not develop until well into the second century after the initial burn. We conclude that variability in tree regeneration after disturbance can dampen and delay future disturbance by breaking spatiotemporal synchrony on the landscape. This highlights the importance of fostering landscape variability in the context of ecosystem management given changing disturbance regimes.

Rebuilding and new housing development after wildfire

Authored by P.M. Alexandre; Published 2015

The number of wildland-urban interface communities affected by wildfire is increasing, and both wildfire suppression and losses are costly. However, little is known about post-wildfire response by homeowners and communities after buildings are lost. Our goal was to characterise rebuilding and new development after wildfires across the conterminous United States. We analysed all wildfires in the conterminous USA from 2000 to 2005. We mapped 42 724 buildings, of which 34 836 were present before the fire and survived, 3604 were burned, 2403 were post-fire new development, and 1881 were burned and rebuilt. Before the fires, 38 440 buildings were present within fire perimeters (surviving plus burned). Within 5 years post-fire, there were 39 120 buildings (surviving, rebuilt and new development). Nationally, only 25% of burned homes were rebuilt within 5 years, though rates were higher in the west, the south and Kansas. New development rates inside versus outside fire perimeters were similar. That the number of buildings inside fire perimeters within 5 years post-fire was greater than pre-fire indicated that homeowners are either willing to face wildfire risks or are unaware of them; or that economic incentives to rebuild in the same place outweigh perceived risks.

Great Basin Consortium Conference 2017: Charting a Course for Rangeland Science in the Sagebrush Biome

Purpose: The objectives of the conference are to have participants learn about and contribute to implementation of the Integrated Rangeland Fire Management Strategy Actionable Science Plan

Who: Researchers, managers, and practitioners from all regions of the sagebrush biome are encouraged to attend

Registration (Link available Dec 1st): $80 ($25 for students)

Call for Posters: Information on how to submit poster abstracts will be available December 1st

Agenda: The agenda, lodging, and other details can be found at:


Communications Under Fire: Understanding Capacity for Effective Communication During Large Scale Wildfires

Webinar from Northwest Fire Science Consortium

Dr. Branda Nowell a Community Psychologist and a Professor in the School of Public and International Affairs presented Communications Under Fire: Understanding Capacity for Effective Communication During Large Scale Wildfires.

Watch the video on our YouTube Channel

Polishing the Prism: Improving Wildfire Mitigation Planning by Coupling Landscape and Social Dimensions

Authored by G. Koch; Published 2016

Effectively addressing wildfire risk to communities on large multi-owner landscapes requires an understanding of the biophysical factors that influence risk, such as fuel loads, topography, and weather, and social factors such as the capacity and willingness for communities to engage in fire-mitigation activities. Biophysical and social processes often are disconnected in wildfire mitigation planning frameworks because of mismatches in scale. The different spatial and temporal scales of these processes usually are not recognized in the planning process. Forest Service scientists Alan Ager, Jeff Kline, and Paige Fischer (now with the University of Michigan) show how scale mismatches can undermine community wildfire mitigation planning, and how using a coupled analysis of biophysical and social factors can lead to more effective outcomes.

Typically, risk assessments focus on estimates of the probability and magnitude of adverse events. The scientists describe a coupled biophysical-social systems approach that leverages biophysical and social  sciences to augment and improve existing wildfire mitigation planning. It describes a new way of defining wildfire protection planning boundaries based on the scale of wildfire risk, rather than administrative and political boundaries. Communities show their strength when pulling together after a disaster; the challenge is to revise the way we approach and deal with fire risk so that communities can pull together to take

Socioecological transitions trigger fire regime shifts and modulate fire–climate interactions in the Sierra Nevada, USA, 1600–2015 CE

Authored by A.H. Taylor; Published 2016

Large wildfires in California cause significant socioecological impacts, and half of the federal funds for fire suppression are spent each year in California. Future fire activity is projected to increase with climate
change, but predictions are uncertain because humans can modulate or even override climatic effects on fire activity. Here we test the hypothesis that changes in socioecological systems from the Native
American to the current period drove shifts in fire activity and modulated fire–climate relationships in the Sierra Nevada. We developed a 415-y record (1600–2015 CE) of fire activity by merging a treering–
based record of Sierra Nevada fire history with a 20th-century record based on annual area burned. Large shifts in the fire record corresponded with socioecological change, and not climate change,
and socioecological conditions amplified and buffered fire response to climate. Fire activity was highest and fire–climate relationships were strongest after Native American depopulation—following mission
establishment (ca. 1775 CE)—reduced the self-limiting effect of Native American burns on fire spread. With the Gold Rush and Euro-American settlement (ca. 1865 CE), fire activity declined, and the strong multidecadal relationship between temperature and fire decayed and then disappeared after implementation of fire suppression (ca. 1904 CE). The amplification and buffering of fire–climate relationships by humans underscores the need for parameterizing thresholds of human- vs. climate-driven fire activity to improve the skill and value of fire–climate models for addressing the increasing fire risk in California.

The fire frequency-severity relationship and the legacy of fire suppression in California forests

Authored by Z.L. Steel; Published 2015

Fire is one of the most important natural disturbance processes in the western United States and ecosystems differ markedly with respect to their ecological and evolutionary relationships with fire. Reference fire regimes in forested ecosystems can be categorized along a gradient ranging from “fuel-limited” to “climate-limited” where the former types are often characterized by frequent, lower-severity wildfires and the latter by infrequent, more severe wildfires. Using spatial data on fire severity from 1984–2011 and metrics related to fire frequency, we tested how divergence from historic (pre-Euroamerican settlement) fire frequencies due to a century of fire suppression influences rates of high-severity fire in five forest types in California. With some variation among bioregions, our results suggest that fires in forest types characterized by fuel-limited fire regimes (e.g., yellow pine and mixed conifer forest) tend to burn with greater proportions of high-severity fire as either time since last fire or the mean modern fire return interval (FRI) increases. Two intermediate fire regime types (mixed evergreen and bigcone Douglas-fir) showed a similar relationship between fire frequency and fire severity. However, red fir and redwood forests, which are characterized by more climate-limited fire regimes, did not show significant positive relationships between FRI and fire severity. This analysis provides strong evidence that for fuel-limited fire regimes, lack of fire leads to increasing rates of high-severity burning. Our study also substantiates the general validity of “fuel-limited” vs. “climate-limited” explanations of differing patterns of fire effects and response in forest types of the western US.

A Four-Step Approach to Planning for Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface

This talk will focus on a four-step approach to integrating wildfire planning for the wildland-urban interface (WUI) through a variety of planning and implementation processes that work across departments within local governments.  Attendees may wish to review the guide on which the talk will be based prior to the session.

View WUI Wildfire Planning Guide PDF >

The talk will begin by briefly discussing how the WUI is both a sociological and legal term that is fluid based upon context, and how that fluidity matters for planning purposes.  The talk will then discuss a conceptual framework that local communities — governmental and non-governmental — can use over time. This framework, referred to in the presentation as the “WUI Wildfire Planning Process,” consists primarily of a four-step, cyclical planning process that revolves around the inter-governmental National Cohesive Strategy Vision and Goals for wildfire, and is supported at all times by education and outreach.  The four active steps of the WUI Wildfire Planning Process are: draft and adopt a community wildfire protection plan (CWPP); regulate and incentivize the built environment at all scales; implement, maintain and enforce regulations and incentives; and respond to substantial changes such as wildfires or the passage of time. While each of these steps is well known in the fire world, finding ways to create an integrated, on-going fire strategy across departments has remained elusive in many communities.  This talk will discuss how this conceptual framework can assist planning efforts.

Register HERE