The last 50 years or so have seen a steady increase in the rate of destructive wildfires across the world, partly as a result of climate change and partly as a result of encroachment of human settlement on fire-based ecosystems (Russell et al. 2004; Westerling et al. 2006). Years of active fire suppression in such areas has inevitably led to the build-up of hazardous fuel loads, creating ideal conditions for destructive wildfires (Johnson et al. 2001). Recently, serious wildfires have occurred in Australia, southeast Asia and the Mediterranean, as well as those occurring in the USA in California, Montana, Idaho and Alaska. Current thinking on fire management is very much focused on re-instating natural fire regimes and allowing fire, as nearly as possible, to function in its natural ecological role (Miller 2006), thereby reducing the occurrence of destructive fires. Mechanical fuel treatments (e.g. thinning) and prescribed burning are being used to reduce fuel loads to near natural conditions, after which natural fire regimes can be allowed to operate. There are two main types of thinning that either remove selected trees to create a more widely spaced forest consisting of trees of different sizes/ages or remove all smaller trees and brush within the understory to leave a more uniform forest of more widely spaced older trees. Prescribed burning uses small managed fires, rather than mechanical means, to achieve the latter. This is a long and involved process and often has the potential to create conflict between the different management regimes associated with adjacent lands and between the different inhabitants and stakeholders affected in the short to medium term. This requires a high degree of collaboration and participatory planning if acceptable fuel reduction strategies and management plans are to be developed.
Adult salmon sense when the time is right to leave the ocean and head for fresh water to spawn. But how do they know this? And how will climate change affect this cycle? Rebecca Flitcroft, a research fish biologist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and colleagues took a closer look at the connection between migration patterns and stream conditions.
They found that water temperature and the rate of streamflow appear to be two of the environmental conditions that precipitate the migration of salmon to their freshwater spawning grounds. This doesn’t bode well for salmon, given that these stream conditions are being altered by climate change.
The researchers used hydrologic data collected at dams in Oregon and Washington and linked them with data showing the timing of migratory fish passing those dams. The findings are displayed visually in ichthyographs, a newly developed graphic tool that shows the precise conditions under which fish move upstream.
This research provides a current baseline for understanding the connection between hydrologic conditions and fish movement. It also highlights ways in which the effects of climate change potentially could be mitigated by managing streamflows at critical times of the year to benefit salmon migration.
On August 14, 2003, the Seattle Forestry Sciences Laboratory was re-named as its fire research program and partnerships grew. The new name, "Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory," highlights the lab's fire science leadership.
Research questions cover the impact of fire on air quality and visibility, wildfire and ecology research, the effects of fire on air, impacts of smoke on human health, and social science (rural and urban wildland interface). We study a wide variety of wildland fire topics: fire behavior, combustion science, biomass assessments, fire ecology, fire management, prescribed fires, fire-climate change interactions, landscape ecology, emissions of greenhouse gases, fire policy, and traditional fire use by indigenous communities.
The Pacific Northwest Research Station's Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab is located in the heart of the Fremont District in Seattle, Washington. Close proximity to the University of Washington facilitates joint research with the University of Washington Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory.
About 21 station scientists and support staff work at the lab, pursuing a range of scientific inquiry across disciplines including pyrology, hydrology, meteorology, sociology, forestry, and more. The lab frequently hosts visiting scientists and post-graduate fellows through partnership with the University of Washington (UW). A number of UW faculty researchers and graduate students sit at the PNW Research Station's Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Lab.
Brown root rot (caused by Phellinus noxius) and myrtle rust (caused by Austropuccinia psidii) are natural disturbances in their native tropical and subtropical forest ecosystems. A tree infected with either fungal pathogen becomes unhealthy and likely dies, sometimes within 3 months. These pathogens are threatening forest ecosystems around the world as they spread through international trade or other means, such as by wind or through the soil. Climate change also is creating environmental conditions that will allow these pathogens to survive in novel forest ecosystems where they haven’t been found historically.
An international team headed by researchers with the USDA Forest Service and Colorado State University analyzed the genetics of the two pathogens and mapped their likely spread based on the current locations of the various subgroups of each pathogen and contemporary and projected future climates. They found that distinct genetic subgroups of each pathogen occupied different ecological niches and caused varying damage to host trees.
The genetic diversity of these pathogens creates a potent threat, and this information is critical for agencies that regulate trade. The Hawaii Department of Agriculture, for example, is working with the USDA Animal Plant Health Inspection Service to prohibit the importation of plants in the myrtle family from locations where myrtle rust pathogens of a specific genetic subgroup are known to occur.