After a more than a century of fighting to keep fire out of forests, reintroducing it is now an important management goal. Yet changes over the past century have left prescribed burning with a big job to do. Development, wildfire suppression, rising global temperatures, extended droughts, exotic species invasions, and longer fire seasons add complexity to using this practice.
Managers must consider how often, how intensely, and what time of year to burn; for insights they often look to how and when fires burned historically. However, attempting to mimic historical wildfires that burned in hot, dry conditions is risky. Burning in fall or spring when temperature and humidity are low reduces the risk of prescribed fires becoming uncontrollable, but does it have the intended effects? How do forest ecosystems that historically were adapted to fire respond when fire is reintroduced after so much time without it?
Forest Service researchers Becky Kerns and Michelle Day conducted a long-term experiment in the Malheur National Forest, Oregon, to assess how season and time between prescribed burns affect understory plant communities in ponderosa pine forests. They found that some native plants persisted and recovered from fire but didn’t respond vigorously, while invasive species tended to spread. These findings may help forest managers design more effective prescribed-fire treatments and avoid unintended consequences.
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.
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.
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).
In western North America beginning in the late 19th century, fire suppression and other factors resulted in dense ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests that are now prone to high severity wildfire, insect attack, and root diseases. Thinning and prescribed fire are commonly used to remove small trees, fire-intolerant tree species, and shrubs, and to reduce surface and aerial fuels. These treatments can be effective at lowering future fire severity, but prescribed burns must be periodically repeated to maintain favorable conditions and are feasible only outside the historical summer wildfire season. This study examines tree growth and mortality associated with spring and fall burning repeated at five (5 yr) and fifteen-year (15 yr) intervals in six previously thinned ponderosa pine stands in the southern Blue Mountain Ecoregion near Burns, Oregon, USA. Each stand consisted of an unburned control, and four season-by-burn interval treatments: spring 5 yr, spring 15 yr, fall 5 yr, and fall 15 yr. Burning was initiated in fall 1997 and spring 1998. Pine height and diameter growth was evaluated in 2013, 15 years following initial treatment. Mortality was assessed annually from 2002 to 2017, when these stands experienced severe defoliation from pine butterfly (PB, Neophasia menapia), followed by a moderate outbreak of western pine beetle (WPB, Dendroctonus brevicomis), allowing us to examine resistance to these disturbances. Pine in the 5 yr fall treatments added more diameter than spring 15 yr and marginally more than spring 5 yr, while fall 15 yr added marginally more diameter than spring 15 yr. In addition, the fall 5 yr treatments had lower mortality associated with prescribed fire, PB, WPB, Ips spp., red turpentine beetle (RTB, D. valens), and mountain pine beetle (MPB, D. ponderosae), but the effect was not always significant. Annosus root disease (ARD, caused by Heterobasidion irregulare) and black stain root disease (BSRD, caused by Leptographium wagneri var. ponderosum) appear to be unaffected by burning. However, BSRD occurrence dramatically declined in all treatments, probably a result of thinning prior to study initiation. Results from this study demonstrate that repeated fall burning, especially at 5-year intervals, improves ponderosa pine diameter growth and may provide resistance to future biotic and abiotic disturbances while spring burning, regardless of frequency, does not.
The Nature Conservancy and the Forest Service, Department of Agriculture have long-term goals to reintroduce fire into U.S. ecosystems at ecologically relevant spatial and temporal scales. Building on decades of collaborative work, a Master Participating Agreement was signed in March 2017 to increase overall fire management capacity through training and education. In October 2017, The Nature Conservancy hosted a cross-boundary fire training, education, research, and restoration-related event for 2 weeks at Sycan Marsh Preserve in Oregon. Eighty people from 15 organizations applied prescribed fire on over 1,200 acres (490 ha). Managers and scientists participated in the applied learning and training exercise. The exercise was a success; operational and research objectives were met, as indicated by multiagency, multidisciplinary fire research, and effectiveness monitoring. This paper describes a paradigm shift of fire-adapted, cross-boundary, multiagency landscape-scale restoration. Participants integrated adaptive management and translational ecology so that applied controlled burning incorporated the most up-to-date scientifically informed management decisions. Scientists worked with practitioners to advance their understanding of the challenges being addressed by managers. The model program has stimulated an exponential increase in landscape-scale and ecologically relevant dry forest restoration in eastern Oregon. Collaboration between managers and scientists is foundational in the long-term success of fire-adapted restoration. Examples of effects of prescribed fire on ecosystem services in the project area, such as increased resilience of trees in drought years, are also provided.
Across the American West, forests have diverse owners and are managed for different goals. But when wildfire ignites on one parcel—whether managed by the USDA Forest Service, a corporation, a tribe, or a family forest land owner—all neighbors are at risk. Fire doesn’t respect property boundaries.
For the past decade, the Forest Service has been promoting an “all-lands” approach that advocates cross-boundary cooperation to reduce fire danger across landscapes with multiple owners. In 2014, the Joint Chiefs’ Landscape Restoration Partnership—a cooperative venture between the Forest Service and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service—formed to fund all-lands projects that involve forest and rangeland restoration, including fuels reduction.
Susan Charnley, a research social scientist with the Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station, and colleagues recently looked at six of these projects in Oregon and California to identify the social factors that lead to success. They found that cross-boundary cooperation can make wildfire mitigation more effective. Other factors that help include funding, trust, reciprocity, technical support, workforce capacity, communication, and an understanding that the benefits of working together outweigh the costs.
As wildfire becomes a more persistent threat across much of the Western United States, information about successful cooperative wildfire management is crucial.
Insects are essential components of forest ecosystems, representing most of the biological diversity and affecting virtually all ecological processes (Schowalter 1994). Most species are beneficial (Coulson and Witter 1984, Haack and Byler 1993), yet others periodically become so abundant that they threaten ecological, economic, social or aesthetic values at local to regional scales (tables 6.1 through 6.3). Insects influence forest ecosystem structure and function in complex and dynamic ways, for example, by regulating certain aspects of primary production; nutrient cycling; ecological succession; and the size, distribution and abundance of plants and other animals (Mattson 1977, Mattson and Addy 1975). Effects on forest vegetation range from being undetectable, to short-term reductions in crown cover, to modest increases in background levels of tree mortality, to extensive amounts of tree mortality observed at regional scales.
Average annual temperature over the contiguous United States has increased by 0.7 degrees Celsius (°C; 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (°F) for the period 1986-2016 compared to 1901-1960 (Vose and others, 2017). Warming temperatures, increased frequency of heat waves, and possibly drought have likely contributed to longer fire seasons, more extreme fire weather, and consequently, larger amounts of sagebrush (Artemisia spp.) burned each year. Future climate warming and alterations in timing of seasonal precipitation may impact the distribution of sagebrush and invasive plants, and further increase the frequency and severity of fires and duration of fire seasons. The degree and spatial extent of these impacts of warming climates on the sagebrush biome will depend on the degree and rate of warming and changes in timing and amount of precipitation. View entire publication here.