A couple of new wildfire-related publications

Over the past year I have had the opportunity to work a several wildfire-related projects, two of which are now available from their publishers. The first focuses on the effectiveness of fuel treatments following the Wallow  (2011) fire and the second focuses on long-term forest dynamics under alternative climate and management scenarios following the Rodeo-Chediski (2002) fire. These were both great projects and I think collectively they provide quite a bit of insight into the abilities of managers and agencies to mitigate wildfire effects (during and after) and highlight the effects treatments have on resiliency and given different climate scenarios.

Screenshot 2014-10-02 07.12.24 Amy E. M. Waltz, Michael T. Stoddard, Elizabeth L. Kalies, Judith D. Springer, David W. Huffman, and A.J. Sánchez Meador. 2014. Effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments: assessing metrics of forest resiliency and wildfire severity after the Wallow Fire, AZ. Forest Ecology and Management 334(15): 43-52. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2014.08.026

Abstract: Landscape-scale wildfire has occurred in higher frequencies across the planet. Fuel reduction treatments to fire-adapted systems have been shown to reduce the impact to human values-at-risk. However, few studies have examined if these treatments contribute to ecosystem resilience, or the capacity of a system to absorb perturbation and return to a similar set of structures or processes. We defined short-term metrics of resiliency to test the hypothesis that fuel reduction treatments in mixed conifer forests increased a fire-adapted system’s resiliency to uncharacteristically severe wildfire. In addition, we tested the hypothesis that fuel reduction treatments reduced burn severity, thereby increasing protection for adjacent human communities. We examined a mixed conifer forested landscape in the southwestern U.S. that was burned by a landscape-scale “mega-fire” in 2011; fuel reduction treatments had been established around communities in the 10 years prior to the fire. Fire effects were highly variable in both treated and untreated forests. However, analysis of resiliency metrics showed that: (a) treated units retained a higher proportion of large trees and had post-fire tree densities within the natural range of variability; (b) the understory herbaceous community had significantly higher cover of native grasses in the treated units, but no significant differences in nonnative cover between treated and untreated units; and (c) high-severity patch sizes were significantly larger in untreated stands and covered a larger proportion of the landscape than historical reference conditions. Fire severity, as defined by overstory mortality and basal area loss, was significantly lower in treated units; on average, trees killed per hectare in untreated units was six times the number of trees killed in treated units. Fuel reduction treatments simultaneously reduced fire severity and enhanced short-term metrics of ecosystem resiliency to uncharacteristically severe fire.

 Screenshot 2014-10-02 07.12.15 Alicia Azpeleta Tarancón, Peter Z. Fulé, Kristen L. Shive, Carolyn H. Sieg, Andrew Sánchez Meador, and Barbara Strom 2014. Simulating post-wildfire forest trajectories under alternative climate and management scenarios. Ecological Applications 24:1626–1637. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/13-1787.1

Abstract: Post-fire predictions of forest recovery under future climate change and management actions are necessary for forest managers to make decisions about treatments. We applied the Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator (Climate-FVS), a new version of a widely used forest management model, to compare alternative climate and management scenarios in a severely burned multispecies forest of Arizona, USA. The incorporation of seven combinations of General Circulation Models (GCM) and emissions scenarios altered long-term (100 years) predictions of future forest condition compared to a No Climate Change (NCC) scenario, which forecast a gradual increase to high levels of forest density and carbon stock. In contrast, emissions scenarios that included continued high greenhouse gas releases led to near-complete deforestation by 2111. GCM-emissions scenario combinations that were less severe reduced forest structure and carbon stock relative to NCC. Fuel reduction treatments that had been applied prior to the severe wildfire did have persistent effects, especially under NCC, but were overwhelmed by increasingly severe climate change. We tested six management strategies aimed at sustaining future forests: prescribed burning at 5, 10, or 20-year intervals, thinning 40% or 60% of stand basal area, and no treatment. Severe climate change led to deforestation under all management regimes, but important differences emerged under the moderate scenarios: treatments that included regular prescribed burning fostered low density, wildfire-resistant forests composed of the naturally dominant species, ponderosa pine. Non-fire treatments under moderate climate change were forecast to become dense and susceptible to severe wildfire, with a shift to dominance by sprouting species. Current U.S. forest management requires modeling of future scenarios but does not mandate consideration of climate change effects. However, this study showed substantial differences in model outputs depending on climate and management actions. Managers should incorporate climate change into the process of analyzing the environmental effects of alternative actions.

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What happens when you lock several economist in a room?

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Last year, the Office of Wildland Fire in the Department of Interior requested that the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University analyze available information and provide insights into wildland fire economics and fuel treatment eeffectiveness. Somehow, I was dragged into it and this is one of the resulting products associated with that endeavor…

 

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