Large wildfires (>50,000 ha) are becoming increasingly common in semiarid landscapes of the western United States. Although fuel reduction treatments are used to mitigate potential wildfire effects, they can be overwhelmed in wind-driven wildfire events with extreme fire behavior. We evaluated drivers of fire severity and fuel treatment effectiveness in the 2014 Carlton Complex, a record-setting complex of wildfires in north-central Washington State. Across varied topography, vegetation, and distinct fire progressions, we used a combination of simultaneous autoregression (SAR) and random forest (RF) approaches to model drivers of fire severity and evaluated how fuel treatments mitigated fire severity. Predictor variables included fuel treatment type, time since treatment, topographic indices, vegetation and fuels, and weather summarized by progression interval. We found that the two spatial regression methods are generally complementary and are instructive as a combined approach for landscape analyses of fire severity. Simultaneous autoregression improves upon traditional linear models by incorporating information about neighboring pixel burn severity, which avoids type I errors in coefficient estimates and incorrect inferences. Random forest modeling provides a flexible modeling environment capable of capturing complex interactions and nonlinearities while still accounting for spatial autocorrelation through the use of spatially explicit predictor variables. All treatment areas burned with higher proportions of moderate and highseverity fire during early fire progressions, but thin and underburn, underburn only, and past wildfires were more effective than thin-only and thin and pile burn treatments. Treatment units had much greater percentages of unburned and low severity area in later progressions that burned under milder fire weather conditions, and differences between treatments were less pronounced. Our results provide evidence that strategic placement of fuels reduction treatments can effectively reduce localized fire spread and severity even under severe fire weather. During wind-driven fire spread progressions, fuel treatments that were located on leeward slopes tended to have lower fire severity than treatments located on windward slopes. As fire and fuels managers evaluate options for increasing landscape resilience to future climate change and wildfires, strategic placement of fuel treatments may be guided by retrospective studies of past large wildfire events.
A key assumption of epidemiological models is that population-scale disease spread is driven by close contact between hosts and pathogens. At larger scales, however, mechanisms such as spatial structure in host and pathogen populations and environmental heterogeneity could alter disease spread. The assumption that small-scale transmission mechanisms are sufficient to explain large-scale infection rates, however, is rarely tested. Here, we provide a rigorous test using an insect-baculovirus system. We fit a mathematical model to data from forest-wide epizootics while constraining the model parameters with data from branch-scale experiments, a difference in spatial scale of four orders of magnitude. This experimentally constrained model fits the epizootic data well, supporting the role of small-scale transmission, but variability is high. We then compare this model’s performance to an unconstrained model that ignores the experimental data, which serves as a proxy for models with additional mechanisms. The unconstrained model has a superior fit, revealing a higher transmission rate across forests compared with branch-scale estimates. Our study suggests that small-scale transmission is insufficient to explain baculovirus epizootics. Further research is needed to identify the mechanisms that contribute to disease spread across large spatial scales, and synthesizing models and multiscale data are key to understanding these dynamics.
Beavers have become a source of inspiration for public and private land managers over the past decade. Beaver dams can help control flooding, raise groundwater levels, and improve surface water flows. Some land managers are now designing stream restoration projects that mimic the way beaver dams shape river ecosystems. Beaver-related restoration may even help the recovery of endangered species that depend on healthy aquatic and riparian areas.
The approach also holds promise for ranchers who graze livestock on rangelands in the Western United States where drier conditions are expected in the coming years. Those already experimenting with beaver-related restoration are discovering that it can increase water and forage availability for their livestock.
Until recently, the social factors that influence the success or failure of these projects on rangelands were not well understood. To assess the social and regulatory environment associated with this new approach, Susan Charnley, a research social scientist with the USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, and her colleagues conducted five case studies in California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. Interviews with more than 100 ranchers, nongovernmental organizations, and regulatory agencies shed light on their attitudes and motivations, as well as the regulatory landscape that influences successful implementation. The findings are important for successfully implementing beaver-related restoration projects in other areas.
Sagebrush ecosystems are a major component of western U.S. landscapes and they provide vital habitat to a wide array of wildlife species, including greater sage-grouse and pygmy rabbits. However, in recent decades, sagebrush ecosystems have been reduced or degraded by a wide range of disturbances, including human development, overgrazing, severe fires, and encroachment by cheatgrass and pinyon-juniper woodlands. These factors are expected to continue or worsen with anticipated climate change.
Exotic grasses are a widespread set of invasive species that are notable for their ability to significantly alter key aspects of ecosystem function. Understanding the role and importance of these invaders in forested landscapes has been limited but is now rising, as grasses from Eurasia and Africa continue to spread through ecosystems of the Americas, Australia, and many Pacific islands, where they threaten biodiversity and alter various aspects of the fire regime. The ecological, social and economic impacts of the grass-fire cycle associated with species such as cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) have been long recognized in aridlands such as the iconic sagebrush ecosystems of the western US. However, the damaging impacts of invasive grasses in forestlands have received considerably less attention. We review literature, conceptual models, model output, and empirical evidence that indicate grass invasion in forest ecosystems may be an important yet largely under-recognized phenomenon. In combination with climate change, wildfire, and overstory management, invasive grasses could create a “perfect storm” that threatens forest resilience. Invasive grasses can be successful in forested environments or develop strongholds within forested mosaics and could provide the literal seeds for rapid change and vegetation type conversion catalyzed by wildfire or changes in climate. Although invasive grass populations may now be on the edge of forests or consist of relatively rare populations with limited spatial extent, these species may disrupt stabilizing feedbacks and disturbance regimes if a grass-fire cycle takes hold, forcing large portions of forests into alternative nonforested states. In addition, forest management actions such as thinning, prescribed fire, and fuel reduction may actually exacerbate invasive grass populations and increase the potential for further invasion, as well as broader landscape level changes through increased fire spread and frequency. Lack of understanding regarding the ecological consequences and importance of managing invasive grasses as a fuel may lead to unintended consequences and outcomes as we enter an age of novel and rapid ecological changes. This paper focuses on the contributory factors, mechanisms, and interactions that may set the stage for unexpected forest change and loss, in an effort to raise awareness about the potential damaging impact of grass invasion in forested ecosystems.
The magnitude of sediment yield following forest timber harvest is controlled by increases in both sediment supply and streamflow. Since the relation between sediment transport and streamflow typically follows a power law, small increases in streamflow may translate into large increases in sediment transport. Interpreting the geomorphic effects of streamflow increases is confounded by the fact that timber harvest influences both the hydrologic regime and sediment supply of a watershed simultaneously, making it difficult to isolate the streamflow effect alone. Here we report on a novel approach to this problem using long-term data from two paired catchments located in the H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, Oregon, USA. We use observed streamflow from the treated (clearcut) and control watersheds to reconstruct a natural streamflow time series for the treated watershed, one that represents streamflow response in conditions prior to harvest. We combine this re-constructed natural streamflow time series with observed relations between streamflow and sediment transport to quantify the background sediment yield and disentangle the relative effects of changes in hydrology and sediment supply. Results indicate that while increases in streamflow can account for modest increases in sediment transport, this is dwarfed by the increased supply of sediment that accompanies most timber harvest. These results have broad relevance to forest timber harvest and fuel management practices worldwide and can be used to constrain or set bounds on likely effects of more modest (i.e., thinning) techniques.
Large-scale, high-severity wildfires are a major challenge to the future social-ecological sustainability of fire-adapted forest ecosystems in the American West. Managing forests to mitigate this risk is a collective action problem requiring landowners and stakeholders within multi-ownership landscapes to plan and implement coordinated restoration treatments. Our research question is: how can we promote collective action to reduce wildfire risk and restore fire-resilient forests in the American West? To address this question we draw on collective action theory to produce an environmental public good (fire-resilient forests), and empirical examples of collective action from six projects that are part of the US Forest Service–Natural Resources Conservation Service Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership. Our findings are based on qualitative, semi-structured interviews conducted with 104 individuals who were purposively selected to represent the diverse stakeholders involved in these projects. Fostering collective action to restore fire-resilient forests entails getting as many landowners (especially large landowners) to participate in wildfire risk reduction as possible to increase its areal extent; and landowner coordination in planning and implementing strategically designed restoration treatments to optimize their effectiveness. We identify factors that enabled and constrained landowner participation and coordination in the Joint Chiefs’ projects. Based on our findings and theory about when collective action will emerge, we specify a suite of practices to promote collective action for wildfire risk reduction across property boundaries, emphasizing incentives and enabling conditions. These include proactive education and outreach targeting landowners; multi-stakeholder processes with broad landowner representation to develop coordinated management approaches; financial and technical assistance to support fuels treatments on all ownerships within similar time frames; strong partnerships; and using common forestry professionals to plan and implement treatments on different ownerships (especially private lands). Our findings can inform cross-boundary management for landscape-scale conservation and restoration in other contexts.