Computer models used to predict forest and fuels dynamics and wildfire behavior inform decisionmaking in contexts such as postdisturbance management. It is imperative to understand possible uncertainty in model predictions. We evaluated sensitivity of the Fire and Fuels Extension to the Forest Vegetation Simulator predictions to parameters that determine dynamics of standing dead trees (snags) and surface woody fuels. Predicted peak coarse and fine woody fuels were not sensitive to the decomposition rate of snags but were sensitive to decomposition rate of surface fuels regardless of initial snag density. Predictions of coarse woody fuel were sensitive to the snag fall rate when there was a higher initial density of snags. Fire behavior predictions were most sensitive to whether stylized fuel models or modeled fuels were used in calculations. When modeled fuels were used, fire behavior predictions were sensitive to the decomposition rate of surface fuels. Although this analysis does not inform the accuracy of model predictions, it does show where there is potential uncertainty in predictions of woody fuels succession and associated fire behavior. It is likely that any model that predicts postdisturbance fuel succession will also be sensitive to parameters that control snag dynamics and fuel decomposition.
Emissions from a stand replacement prescribed burn were sampled using an unmanned aircraft system (UAS, or “drone”) in Fishlake National Forest, Utah, U.S.A. Sixteen flights over three days in June 2019 provided emission factors for a broad range of compounds including carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), nitric oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), particulate matter < 2.5 μm in diameter (PM2.5), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) including carbonyls, black carbon, and elemental/organic carbon. To our knowledge, this is the first UAS-based emission sampling for a fire of this magnitude, including both slash pile and crown fires resulting in wildfire-like conditions. The burns consisted of drip torch ignitions as well as ground-mobile and aerial helicopter ignitions of large stands comprising over 1000 ha, allowing for comparison of same-species emission factors burned under different conditions. The use of a UAS for emission sampling minimizes risk to personnel and equipment, allowing flexibility in sampling location and ensuring capture of representative, fresh smoke constituents. PM2.5 emission factors varied 5-fold and, like most pollutants, varied inversely with combustion efficiency resulting in lower emission factors from the slash piles than the crown fires.
The increasing amount of high-severity wildfire in historical low and mixed-severity fire regimes in western US forests has created a need to better understand the ecological effects of different post fire management approaches. For three different salvage prescriptions, we quantified change in stand structural metrics (snag densities and snag basal areas), dead woody fuel loadings, tree regeneration survival, and percentage change in vegetation cover before and after post-fire logging 1 year after the 2015 Stickpin Wildfire on the Colville National Forest in northeastern Washington State, USA. In a generalized randomized block design three salvage logging prescriptions were randomly assigned within each block: no treatment control (C); standard salvage retention (SSR; thin to 3.4 m2/ha basal area); and mimic green tree thinning (GTR; thin to 10.3 m2/ha basal area). SSR reduced average snag basal area 73–83% to 4.1–8.8 m2/ha (68–674 trees ha−1). GTR reduced average snag (standing dead trees) basal area 41–71% to 6.5–15.9 m2/ha (90–794 trees ha−1). There were mixed results for the change in dead woody fuel loadings depending on fuel size class. In general, fine (FWD) and coarse woody (CWD) debris tended to increase immediately post-treatment in logged areas relative to the controls but did not exceed management loading threshold for providing acceptable risk of fire hazard. Treated stands had a significant increase in FWD relative to controls, including the individual 1-, 10-, and 100-hr fuel size classes. The treatment effect differed by experimental block. The 1000-hr sound class did not have a significant treatment effect. Changes in surface fuel loading were inconsequential to modeled wildfire behavior metrics (rate-of-spread, flame lengths). The Fire and Fuels Extension to Forest Vegetation Simulator (FFE-FVS) modeling projected CWD accumulation in the controls exceeded total accumulation in both treatments. Future fuel loadings may affect reburn severity as our simulated wildfire 20 years after harvesting caused significant mortality (89%) to regenerating forest. Almost all blocks showed a decrease in seedling counts pre and post-logging, including the control plots. This study provides empirical data on the effects of different postfire management strategies that can inform environmental analyses for future post-fire management decision and address social concerns associated with this oftencontroversial practice (Roccaforte et al., 2012).
United States forestland is an important ecosystem type, land cover, land use, and economic resource that is facing several drivers of change including climatic. Because of its significance, forestland was identified through the National Climate Assessment (NCA) as a key sector and system of concern to be included in a system of climate indicators as part of a sustained assessment effort. Here, we describe 11 informative core indicators of forests and climate change impacts with metrics available or nearly available for use in the NCA efforts. The recommended indicators are based on a comprehensive conceptual model which recognizes forests as a land use, an ecosystem, and an economic sector. The indicators cover major forest attributes such as extent, structural components such as biomass, functions such as growth and productivity, and ecosystem services such as biodiversity and outdoor recreation. Interactions between humans and forests are represented through indicators focused on the wildland-urban interface, cost to mitigate wildfire risk, and energy produced from forest-based biomass. Selected indicators also include drought and disturbance from both wildfires and biotic agents. The forest indicators presented are an initial set that will need further refinement in coordination with other NCA indicator teams. Our effort ideally will initiate the collection of critical measurements and observations and lead to additional research on forest-climate indicators.
This report assesses recent forest disturbance in the Western United States and discusses implications for sustainability. Individual chapters focus on fire, drought, insects, disease, invasive plants, and socioeconomic impacts. Disturbance data came from a variety of sources, including the Forest Inventory and Analysis program, Forest Health Protection, and the National Interagency Fire Center. Disturbance trends with the potential to affect forest sustainability include alterations in fire regimes, periods of drought in some parts of the region, and increases in invasive plants, insects, and disease. Climate affects most disturbance processes, particularly drought, fire, and biotic disturbances, and climate change is expected to continue to affect disturbance processes in various ways and degrees.
Reactive nitrogen (Nr) within smoke plumes plays important roles in the production of ozone, the formation of secondary aerosols, and deposition of fixed N to ecosystems. The Western Wildfire Experiment for Cloud Chemistry, Aerosol Absorption, and Nitrogen (WE-CAN) field campaign sampled smoke from 23 wildfires throughout the western U.S. during summer 2018 using the NSF/NCAR C-130 research aircraft. We empirically estimate Nr normalized excess mixing ratios and emission factors from fires sampled within 80 min of estimated emission and explore variability in the dominant forms of Nr between these fires. We find that reduced N compounds comprise a majority (39%-80%; median = 66%) of total measured reactive nitrogen (ΣNr) emissions. The smoke plumes sampled during WE-CAN feature rapid chemical transformations after emission. As a result, within minutes after emission total measured oxidized nitrogen (ΣNOy) and measured total ΣNHx (NH3 + pNH4) are more robustly correlated with modified combustion efficiency (MCE) than NOx and NH3 by themselves. The ratio of ΣNHx/ΣNOy displays a negative relationship with MCE, consistent with previous studies. A positive relationship with total measured ΣNr suggests that both burn conditions and fuel N content/volatilization differences contribute to the observed variability in the distribution of reduced and oxidized Nr. Additionally, we compare our in situ field estimates of Nr EFs to previous lab and field studies. For similar fuel types, we find ΣNHx EFs are of the same magnitude or larger than lab-based NH3 EF estimates, and ΣNOy EFs are smaller than lab NOx EFs.
Although a natural ecological process, wildfire in unhealthy forests can be uncharacteristically destructive. Fuel treatments—such as thinning, mowing, prescribed fire, or managed wildfire—can help reduce or redistribute the flammable fuels that threaten to carry and intensify fire. Using both field-tested data and computer simulations, Pacific Northwest Research Station scientists are addressing critical questions such as Are we treating enough of the landscape to restore fire-adapted forests? Are fuel treatments effective at changing fire behavior? Together with land managers, fuel planners, and other partners, our scientists are helping public land management agencies move toward a future of fire-resilient forests and communities.
Tree spatial patterns in dry coniferous forests of the western United States, and analogous ecosystems globally, were historically aggregated, comprising a mixture of single trees and groups of trees. Modern forests, in contrast, are generally more homogeneous and overstocked than their historical counterparts. As these modern forests lack regular fire, pattern formation and maintenance is generally attributed to fire. Accordingly, fires in modern forests may not yield historically analogous patterns. However, direct observations on how selective tree mortality among pre‐existing forest structure shapes tree spatial patterns is limited. In this study, we (a) simulated fires in historical and contemporary counterpart plots in a Sierra Nevadan mixed‐conifer forest, (b) estimated tree mortality, and (c) examined tree spatial patterns of live trees before and after fire, and of fire‐killed trees. Tree mortality in the historical period was clustered and density‐dependent, because trees were aggregated and segregated by tree size before fire. Thus, fires maintained an aggregated distribution of tree groups. Tree mortality in the contemporary period was widespread, except for dispersed large trees, because most trees were a part of large, interconnected tree groups. Thus, postfire tree patterns were more uniform and devoid of moderately sized tree groups. Postfire tree patterns in the historical period, unlike the contemporary period, were within the historical range of variability identified for the western United States. This divergence suggests that decades of forest dynamics without significant disturbances have altered the historical means of pyric pattern formation. Our results suggest that ecological silvicultural treatments, such as forest restoration thinnings, which emulate qualities of historical forests may facilitate the reintroduction of fire as a means to reinforce forest structural heterogeneity.
Fire plays an important role in wildland ecosystems, critical to sustaining biodiversity, wildlife habitat and ecosystem health. By area, 70% of US prescribed burns take place in the Southeast, where treatment objectives range widely and accomplishing them depends on finding specific weather conditions for the effective and controlled application of fire. The climatological variation of the preferred weather window is examined here using two weather model reanalyses, with focus on conditions critical to smoke dispersion and erratic fire behaviour. Large spatial gradients were evident in some months (e.g. 3× change across the Appalachian Mountains in winter). Over most of the Southeast, availability of preferred conditions in summer was several (up to 8) times less than in autumn or winter. We offer explanation for this variability in terms of the mean seasonal changes of key weather conditions (especially mixing height and transport wind). We also examine the interannual variability of the preferred weather window for linkage to the tropical Pacific (1979–2010). Associations with the subset of El Niño events identified by outgoing-longwave-radiation suggest skilful seasonal fire weather forecasts are feasible. Together, these findings offer a predictive tool to prioritise allocation of scarce prescribed fire resources and maximise annual area treated across this landscape.