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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
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sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program.

OSU's John Bailey and Lisa Ellsworth (fire ecologists) talking about the burn severity at Eagle Creek. They suggest the fire burned in a nice mosaic pattern.

Hot Topics


Prescribed fires as ecological surrogates for wildfires: A stream and riparian perspective

Authored by R.S. Arkle; Published 2010

Forest managers use prescribed fire to reduce wildfire risk and to provide resource benefits, yet little information is available on whether prescribed fires can function as ecological surrogates for wildfire in fire-prone landscapes. Information on impacts and benefits of this management tool on stream and riparian ecosystems is particularly lacking. We used a beyond-BACI (Before, After, Control, Impact) design to investigate the effects of a prescribed fire on a stream ecosystem and compared these findings to similar data collected after wildfire. For 3 years after prescribed fire treatment, we found no detectable changes in periphyton, macroinvertebrates, amphibians, fish, and riparian and stream habitats compared to data collected over the same time period in four unburned reference streams. Based on changes in fuels, plant and litter cover, and tree scorching, this prescribed fire was typical of those being implemented in ponderosa pine forests throughout the western U.S. However, we found that the extent and severity of riparian vegetation burned was substantially lower after prescribed fire compared to nearby wildfires. The early-season prescribed fire did not mimic the riparian or in-stream ecological effects observed following a nearby wildfire, even in catchments with burn extents similar to the prescribed fire. Little information exists on the effects of long-term fire exclusion from riparian forests, but a ‘‘prescribed fire regime’’ of repeatedly burning upland forests while excluding fire in adjacent riparian forests may eliminate an important natural disturbance from riparian and stream habitats.


Forest succession along a productivity gradient following fire exclusion

Authored by J.D. Johnston; Published 2017

Numerous studies have documented significant change in conifer forests of the American West following the cessation of recurrent fire at the end of the 19th century. But the successional dynamics that characterize different forested settings in the absence of fire remain poorly understood. This study reconstructs structural and compositional change over 150 years across a productivity gradient that includes both mixed conifer and ponderosa pine forests within a 688,000 ha study area in the southern Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon. Moister and more productive forest stands dominated by grand fir did not support more tree basal area and were not appreciably denser in 1860 than drier and less productive stands dominated by ponderosa pine. The greatest magnitude of change over the last 150 years has occurred in the most productive mixed conifer stands. Drier ponderosa pine dominated stands with significant live old-growth structure have experienced relatively little change even after more than a century without fire. Reconstruction of historical forest density in productive mixed conifer forests suggests these sites were historically coupled to the broader dry forest landscape pattern via frequent fire disturbance and should be a priority for restoration if a return to historical conditions is a goal of management.


Historical perspective on the influence of wildfire policy, law, and informal institutions on management and forest resilience in a multiownership, frequent-fire, coupled human and natural system in Oregon, USA

Authored by M.M. Steen-Adams; Published 2017

We examine the influence of wildfire institutions on management and forest resilience over time, drawing on research from a multiownership, frequent-fire, coupled human and natural system (CHANS) in the eastern Cascades of Oregon, USA. We constructed social-ecological histories of the study area’s three main landowner groups (national forest, private corporate, and tribal) using a historical framework (1905–2010). Our findings highlight two infrequently recognized linkages of multiownership, frequent-fire CHANS: (1) informal institutions (e.g., cultural norms, knowledge system and fire paradigm) and institutional history often influence wildfire management adaptation (changes in forest fuel treatment, harvest fuel treatment, and wildfire incident response) through interactions with formal institutions (e.g., policy, law) and consequent effects on managers’ decision-making flexibility; (2) institutional interactions over time can influence forest resilience, thereby contributing to forest structural variation in multiownership landscapes. Consequently, the factors that contribute to maladaptive wildfire management are heterogeneously distributed across ownerships and the landscape. The timing of institutional dynamics also matters: manager flexibility to respond adaptively to wildfire hazard change seems to depend on synchronicity in evolution between informal and formal institutions, whereas asynchronous evolution (e.g., policy change, coupled with delayed shift in cultural norms or fire paradigms) may generate a time lag between unanticipated ecological feedbacks and management response. Thus, interventions that promote informal institutional evolution in tandem with developments in policy and law may shorten time lags, accelerating adaptation. A historical perspective can facilitate broad-scale, adaptive responses to wildfire-related ecological feedbacks in several ways: by providing insight into how informal institutions and institutional history interact with formal institutions to influence wildfire management behavior; by providing a historical baseline and system stages that contextualize current management behavior, ecological conditions, and policy options; and by illuminating historical sources of variation among ownerships and how they might be addressed.