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Carol L. Miller

Research Ecologist

790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
Contact Carol L. Miller

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.

Research Interests

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.

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.

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

    • Society for Wilderness Stewardship, Member ( 2011 to present )
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    • Association for Fire Ecology, Member ( 2005 to present )
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    • International Association of Wildland Fire, Member ( 2001 to present )
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    • International Association for Landscape Ecology (U.S. Chapter), Member ( 1998 to present )
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    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


    Holsinger, Lisa M.; Parks, Sean A.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L.; Batllori, Enric; Moritz, Max A., 2019. Climate change likely to reshape vegetation in North America's largest protected areas
    Hessburg, Paul F.; Miller, Carol L.; Parks, Sean A.; Povak, Nicholas A.; Taylor, A. H.; Higuera, P. E.; Prichard, S. J.; North, Malcolm P.; Collins, Brandon M.; Hurteau, M. D.; Larson, A. J.; Allen, C. D.; Stephens, S. L.; Rivera-Huerta, H.; Stevens-Rumann, C. S.; Daniels, L. D.; Gedalof, Z.; Gray, R. W.; Kane, Van R.; Churchill, D. J.; Hagmann, R. K.; Spies, Thomas A.; Cansler, C. A.; Belote, R. T.; Veblen, T. T.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Hoffman, C.; Skinner, Carl N.; Safford, H. D.; Salter, R., 2019. Climate, environment, and disturbance history govern resilience of Western North American forests
    Downing, William M.; Krawchuk, Meg A.; Meigs, Garrett W.; Haire, Sandra L.; Coop, Jonathan D.; Walker, Ryan B.; Whitman, Ellen; Chong, Geneva; Miller, Carol L., 2019. Influence of fire refugia spatial pattern on post-fire forest recovery in Oregon’s Blue Mountains
    Parks, Sean A.; Dobrowski, Solomon Z.; Shaw, John D.; Miller, Carol L., 2019. Living on the edge: Trailing edge forests at risk of fire-facilitated conversion to non-forest
    McWethy, David B.; Schoennagel, Tania; Higuera, Philip E.; Krawchuk, Meg; Harvey, Brian J.; Metcalf, Elizabeth C.; Schultz, Courtney; Miller, Carol L.; Metcalf, Alexander L.; Buma, Brian; Virapongse, Arika; Kulig, Judith C.; Stedman, Richard C.; Ratajczak, Zak; Nelson, Cara R.; Kolden, Crystal, 2019. Rethinking resilience to wildfire
    Parks, Sean A.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, Marc-Andre, 2018. Analog-based fire regime and vegetation shifts in mountainous regions of the western US
    Parks, Sean A.; Parisien, Marc‐Andre; Miller, Carol L.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Baggett, Scott, 2018. Fine-scale spatial climate variation and drought mediate the likelihood of reburning
    Robinne, Francois-Nicolas; Bladon, Kevin D.; Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Mathieu, Jerome; Flannigan, Mike D., 2017. A spatial evaluation of global wildfire-water risks to human and natural systems
    Robinne, Francois-Nicolas; Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Emelko, Monica B.; Bladon, Kevin D.; Silins, Uldis; Flannigan, Mike, 2016. A global index for mapping the exposure of water resources to wildfire
    Barnett, Kevin; Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Naughton, Helen T., 2016. Beyond fuel treatment effectiveness: Characterizing interactions between fire and treatments in the US
    Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Abatzoglou, John T.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Dobrowski, Solomon Z., 2016. How will climate change affect wildland fire severity in the western US?
    Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L.; Parks, Sean A.; DeLancey, Evan R.; Robinne, Francois-Nicolas; Flannigan, Mike D., 2016. The spatially varying influence of humans on fire probability in North America
    Krawchuk, Meg A.; Haire, Sandra L.; Coop, Jonathan; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Whitman, Ellen; Chong, Geneva; Miller, Carol L., 2016. Topographic and fire weather controls of contemporary fire refugia in forested ecosystems of northwestern North America
    Holsinger, Lisa M.; Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L., 2016. Weather, fuels, and topography impede wildland fire spread in western US landscapes
    Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Baggett, Scott; Bird, Benjamin J., 2016. Wildland fire limits subsequent fire occurrence
    Cooke, Brian; Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Nelson, Cara; Holden, Zack; Baggett, Scott; , 2016. Wildland fire: Nature’s fuel treatment
    Keane II, Robert E.; McKenzie, Donald; Falk, Donald A.; Smithwick, Erica A.H.; Miller, Carol L.; Kellogg, Lara-Karena B., 2015. Representing climate, disturbance, and vegetation interactions in landscape models
    Hessburg, Paul F.; Churchill, Derek J.; Larson, Andrew J.; Haugo, Ryan D.; Miller, Carol L.; Spies, Thomas A.; North, Malcolm P.; Povak, Nicholas A.; Belote, R. Travis; Singleton, Peter H.; Gaines, William L.; Keane II, Robert E.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Stephens, Scott L.; Morgan, Penelope; Bisson, Peter A.; Rieman, Bruce E.; Salter, R. Brion; Reeves, Gordon H., 2015. Restoring fire-prone Inland Pacific landscapes: seven core principles
    Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Holsinger, Lisa M.; Dobrowski, Solomon Z.; Abatzoglou, John, 2015. Wildland fire deficit and surplus in the western United States, 1984-2012
    Parks, Sean A.; Dillon, Gregory K.; Miller, Carol L., 2014. A new metric for quantifying burn severity: The Relativized Burn Ratio
    Parks, Sean A.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L.; Dobrowski, Solomon Z., 2014. Fire activity and severity in the western US vary along proxy gradients representing fuel amount and fuel moisture
    Batllori, Enric; Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Parks, Sean A.; Moritz, Max A., 2014. Is U.S. climatic diversity well represented within the existing federal protection network?
    Morgan, Penelope; Heyerdahl, Emily K.; Miller, Carol L.; Wilson, Aaron M.; Gibson, Carly E., 2014. Northern Rockies pyrogeography: An example of fire atlas utility
    Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Nelson, Cara R.; Holden, Zachary A., 2014. Previous fires moderate burn severity of subsequent wildland fires in two large western US wilderness areas
    Fulé, Peter Z.; Swetnam, Thomas W.; Brown, Peter M.; Falk, Donald A.; Peterson, David L.; Allen, Craig D.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Binkley, Dan; Farris, Calvin; Keane II, Robert E.; Margolis, Ellis Q.; Grissino-Mayer, Henri; Miller, Carol L.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Skinner, Carl; Stephens, Scott L.; Taylor, Alan, 2014. Unsupported and inaccurate inferences of high severity fire in historical dry forests of the Western United States dry forests: response to Williams and Baker
    Fule, Peter Z.; Swetnam, Thomas W.; Brown, Peter M.; Falk, Donald A.; Peterson, David L.; Allen, Craig D.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Battaglia, Mike A.; Binkley, Dan; Farris, Calvin; Keane II, Robert E.; Margolis, Ellis Q.; Grissino-Mayer, Henri; Miller, Carol L.; Sieg, Carolyn H.; Skinner, Carl; Stephens, Scott L.; Taylor, Alan, 2014. Unsupported inferences of high-severity fire in historical dry forests of the western United States: Response to Williams and Baker
    Parks, Sean A.; Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L., 2012. Spatial bottom-up controls on fire likelihood vary across western North America
    Parisien, Marc-Andre; Parks, Sean A.; Miller, Carol L.; Krawchuck, Meg A.; Heathcott, Mark; Moritz, Max A., 2011. Contributions of ignitions, fuels, and weather to the spatial patterns of burn probability of a boreal landscape
    Davis, Brett; Miller, Carol L.; Parks, Sean A., 2010. Retrospective fire modeling: Quantifying the impacts of fire suppression
    Parisien, Marc-Andre; Miller, Carol L.; Ager, Alan A.; Finney, Mark A., 2010. Use of artificial landscapes to isolate controls on burn probability
    Stewart, Susan I.; Wilmer, Bo; Hammer, Roger B.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Hawbaker, Todd J.; Miller, Carol L.; Radeloff, Volker C., 2009. Wildland-urban interface maps vary with purpose and context
    Miller, Carol L.; Parisien, M.-A.; Ager, A. A.; Finney, M. A., 2008. Evaluating spatially explicit burn probabilities for strategic fire management planning
    Falk, Donald A.; Miller, Carol L.; McKenzie, Donald; Black, Anne E., 2007. Cross-scale analysis of fire regimes
    Doane, Dustin L.; O'Laughlin, Jay; Morgan, Penelope; Miller, Carol L., 2006. Barriers to wildland fire use: A preliminary problem analysis
    Miller, Carol L.; Landres, Peter B., 2004. Exploring information needs for wildland fire and fuels management
    Miller, Carol L.; Landres, Peter B.; Alaback, Paul B., 2000. Evaluating risks and benefits of wildland fire at landscape scales
    Potential changes in vegetation distribution in Yellowstone NP, Grand Teton NP, and adjacent Forest Service wilderness areas.
    National parks, wilderness areas, and nature reserves were created to preserve a sample of pristine ecosystems, but even the most remote protected areas face serious threats from climate change. Managers would benefit from a better understanding how ecosystems within protected areas may respond to global warming.  
    Trailing edge forest Southern Rockies ecoregion
    Forests are an incredibly important resource across the globe, yet they are threatened by climate change through stressors such as drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfire. Trailing edge forests—those areas expected to experience range contractions under a changing climate—are of concern because of the potential for abrupt conversion to non-forest. However, broad-scale forest die-off and range contraction in trailing edge forests are unlikely to occur over short timeframes (<~25–50 years) without a disturbance catalyst (e.g., wildfire). As such, explicit attention to both climate and disturbance is necessary to understand how the distribution of forests will respond to climate change.
    Forest Fire Thumbail
    Wildland fire has the potential to influence properties of subsequent fire. Researchers monitored the extent to which a previous wildland fire inhibits new fires from igniting.
    fire thumbnail
    The large amount of media coverage of recent massive wildfires across the world has emphasized the vulnerability of freshwater resources. Extensive hydrogeomorphic effects from a wildfire can impair the availability of watersheds to provide safe drinking water to downstream communities and high-quality water to maintain riverine ecosystem health. In this particular study researchers analyzed global wildfire-water risks.
    The global composite index of the wildfire-water risk shows spatial distribution of risk from wildfire impacts on water resources. About half of the area globally (51%) is at moderate risk (values between 20 and 40).
    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. Scientists developed the first global evaluation of wildfire risks to water security bringing us a step closer to a global database that maps key wildfire-water risk indicators.
    One year after the 2011 Miller Creek fire in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico. Photo by Sean Parks
    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 that fire occurrence, size, and severity are limited by recent wildfires should provide greater flexibility and confidence in managing fire incidents and managing for resource benefit. Specifically, fire managers can use the findings from this study to help predict whether a previous fire will act as a fuel treatment based on fire age, forest type, and expected weather.
    Maps of the likelihood of unsuppressed ignitions spreading outside the wilderness study area boundary for each month of ignition in simulated fire seasons.
    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. We capitalize on recent advances in fire risk analysis to demonstrate a risk-based approach for revealing where unplanned ignitions in wilderness pose little risk to non-wilderness values and therefore where fire can be managed for its longer term ecological benefits. Although this approach was demonstrated in the context of wilderness fire management, it has broad applicability and could support spatial fire and fuels management planning efforts in non-wilderness settings.
    Simulations show where fires would have spread and reveal hidden consequences of suppression.
    Researchers have investigated the true costs of suppressing wildfires and found the results to have broad national applicability. These methods are being evaluated in the Rocky Mountains and the Southwest, and findings improve the quality and consistency of fire and fuels management decisions. This research highlights the importance of wilderness areas for understanding fire ecology within unmanaged versus more heavily managed landscapes.  
    Hikers in the Lost Coast Wilderness in California (USDA FS)
    The Wilderness Act noted its 50th anniversary in the signing of the law in 2014. Leopold Institute scientists and partners contributed five major articles highlighting 50 years of Wilderness science.
    Forest managers and policymakers are increasingly concerned about potential for increased fire activity and severity in future years. Although many studies have focused on how fire activity is expected to change under future climate scenarios, there have been little to no studies on how fire severity is expected to change. To better under understand how fire severity will change in the future, a necessary first step is to better understand the climatic drivers of contemporary fire severity patterns.
    Scientists with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute quantified the ability of wildfire to limit the spread of subsequent fires and essentially, act as a fuel break. Additionally, they evaluated the influence of daily weather in diminishing this effect. The results of this study provide an improved understanding of feedbacks between previous and subsequent wildfire under varying weather conditions and will be useful to fire managers who seek to restore natural fire regimes or to exploit recent burns when managing fire.  
    Wildfire has long been an important and complex disturbance agent in forests dominated by ponderosa pine in the western United States. However, many recent fires have burned with increased severity across large, contiguous areas, resulting in vast expanses with no surviving overstory trees. Researchers are looking at regeneration rates inponderosa pine forests after high-severity fires and examining the spatial patterns and environmental conditions in affected areas to help managers anticipate natural recovery and plan for post-fire management activities.
    Numerous factors influence the establishment and growth of tree seedlings after high-severity wildfires. Understanding spatial patterns and environmental conditions influencing ponderosa pine and aspen regeneration post-wildfire can help managers monitor natural recovery.
    This project will quantify the effectiveness of wildland fire as a fuel treatment in terms of its ability to limit the occurrence, size, and severity of subsequent fires. In addition, we will quantify the longevity of these effects and evaluate how extreme weather may diminish the ability of wildland fire to act as a fuel treatment.
    The goal of this study was to better understand fire behavior and effects using remotely sensed data.
    Integrating Forests, Fish, and Fire (IF3) is a Bayesian decision-support model that uses information on forest vegetation, human alterations to habitat, and the potential for fire to predict the post-fire persistence of stream fish populations. The model's purpose is to evaluate alternative vectors for maximizing resilience to future fire activity in forest stands that support such sensitive stream fish as bull trout.