Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Carol L. Miller

Research Ecologist
Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute
790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
United States
Current Research

Primary responsibilities are to develop the understanding necessary to guide the stewardship of fire as a natural process in wilderness. This includes: 1) studying natural fire regimes and how they have been altered by management, 2) evaluating options for the stewardship of fire as a natural process and the consequences of these management alternatives, and 3) seeking to understand the social and institutional factors that influence the evaluation of tradeoffs by fire managers and members of the public.

Past Research

*Integration of fuel dynamics and fire processes into a forest succession model for the Sierra Nevada in California so that climate-fire-forest interactions could be better studied and understood.
*Development, use, and evaluation of spatially explicit models to map the likelihood of burning across heterogeneous landscapes for use in quantitative risk analysis.
*Retrospective modeling for quantifying the impacts of past suppression decisions and revealing the hidden consequences of suppression.
*Co-editor of a book on the Landscape Ecology of Fire.
*Analyses to evaluate the conservation capacity of the current protected area network in North America now and into the future.
*Use of wilderness fire histories to quantify the self-limiting property of fire regimes.
*Advancing knowledge about the formation, persistence, and function of fire refugia.
*A framework for understanding value-neutral and value-explicit dimensions of social-ecological resilience to wildfire.

Research Interest
Agents of landscape pattern formation.
Interactions among fire regimes, climate, and vegetation pattern.
Implications of fire suppression and our ability to restore fire as an ecosystem process.
Effects of global climatic change on disturbance regimes.
Why This Research Is Important

Managers of protected areas, such as wilderness, have the challenge of restoring or maintaining the disturbance process of fire while considering a suite of other social and ecological values inside and outside the boundaries of these areas. Their decisions can have long lasting consequences that are difficult to predict. Fire suppression is the dominant fire management strategy across all land designations, and in many areas, suppression has contributed to increasing hazardous fuel accumulations, increasing probability of extreme fire behavior and effects, and altered ecosystem structure and function. These results run counter to protected area management goals, and continue to increase the vulnerability of nearby human communities to wildland fire. Fire suppression also has helped to distort human perceptions of natural systems. The orientations toward fire management held by the public and government agencies need to shift away from suppression as the dominant strategy and toward a stewardship of the process of fire that includes natural and prescribed fire.

  • Penn State University, B.S., Electrical Engineering, 1985
  • Colorado State University, M.S., Forest Sciences, 1994
  • Colorado State University, Ph.D., Ecology, 1998
Professional Organizations
  • Member,  Society for Wilderness Stewardship,  2011 - Current
  • Member,  Association for Fire Ecology,  2005 - Current
  • Member,  International Association of Wildland Fire,  2001 - Current
  • Member,  International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter),  1998 - Current
Awards & Recognition
  • National Wilderness Awards, Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research Award, 2016
    This award recognizes the contribution of a timely research endeavor that informs and responds to wilderness stewardship challenges. Awarded for Parks, S.A. et al. 2015. Ecol Appl 25:1478-1492.
  • Mid-Career Scientist Publication, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2011
    McKENZIE, D., MILLER, C., FALK, D.A., editors. 2011. The Landscape Ecology of Fire. Springer. 312 pages.
  • Best Paper in Landscape Ecology, US Chapter of the International Association for Landscape Ecology, 2008
    FALK, D.A., C. MILLER, McKENZIE, D., BLACK, A.E. 2007. Cross-scale analysis of fire regimes. Ecosystems 10: 809-823.
  • Excellence in Research, National Fire Plan, 2005
    Nomination was based on success in creating an interdisciplinary research program that proactively addresses high priority fire and fuels management needs.
  • Best Early Career Publication, Rocky Mountain Research Station, 2004
    MILLER, C. 2003. Simulation of effects of climatic change on fire regimes. Pages 69 – 94 in T. Veblen, W. Baker, G. Montenegro and T. Swetnam (eds.), Fire and Climatic Change in Temperate Ecosystems of the Western Americas. Springer-Verlag.
Featured Publications
Other Publications
Research Highlights

Windows of Opportunity for Allowing Wilderness Fires to Burn

Year: 2016
A goal of fire management in wilderness is to allow fire to play its natural ecological role without intervention. Unfortunately, most unplanned ignitions in wilderness are suppressed, in part because of the risk they might pose to values outside of the wilderness. Forest Service scientists capitali...

A global assessment on the effects of wildfire on freshwater resources: Addressing potential vulnerability to water security

Year: 2017
Freshwater resources are vital to humans and our natural environment. Water systems around the world are at risk resulting from population growth, urban development, ecosystem degradation, climate change, and over the past several years, from large catastrophic wildfires. A team of scientists develo...

The hidden consequences of fire suppression

Year: 2011
Researchers are investigating the true costs of suppressing wildfires and finding results that will have broad national applicability. Their methods are being evaluated in the Rockies and Southwest.

Wildland Fire: Nature’s Fuel Treatment

Year: 2016
In recent decades, many landscapes across the western United States have experienced substantial fire activity. These fires consume fuels and alter vegetation structure, which may be able to serve as a natural fuel treatment in the same manner as mechanical treatments or prescribed fire. Knowing tha...

The Effectiveness of Wildfire as a Fuel Treatment

Year: 2012
New research results provide crucial information to land managers as they assess trade-offs associated with wildfire suppression and appropriate management response