My research is currently focused on four broad topic areas. First, I am investigating the role of wildland fire in acting as a fuel treatment. That is, I am quantifying how past wildland fire affects subsequent fire spread, severity, size, etc. Second, I am conducting studies that identify the relationship between climate and fire regimes. One of the primary goals of this research is to better understand how climate change will influence fire regimes. Third, I am identifying factors that are likely to result in fire-facilitated conversion from forest to non-forest. Lastly, I conduct studies that evaluate landscape connectivity under a warming climate. Many, but certainly not all, of my studies are conducted using data from designated wilderness or other protected areas (e.g., National Parks). The relevancy of my research, however, is applicable across all land designations.
I am interested in spatial interactions between past wildland fire and subsequent fire events. I am specifically interested in how past fires “regulate” subsequent fires in terms of fire size, severity, ignition potential, etc. I am also keenly interested in better understanding how climate shapes fire regimes, which is particularly relevant given that climate change will inevitably result in changes to fire regimes. Furthermore, I am interested in identifying those factors that control conifer seedling establishment and survival (i.e., regeneration). Other research interests include satellite detection of fire effects and spread, retrospective evaluations of the influence of weather and topography on fire behavior, and the restoration of fire as a natural process. Designated wilderness and similarly protected areas are excellent “laboratories” for conducting much of this work because there is minimal human infrastructure (e.g., roads) and, in several protected areas, many fires are not actively suppressed. I am also actively involved in research involving climate change connectivity, including metrics such as climate velocity, climate exposure, and climate corridors.
Wildland fire is one of the most pervasive and important ecological processes on the planet, and although the Forest Service spends in excess of one billion dollars per year suppressing fire, large areas of land burn each year. Consequently, there is a growing recognition that our society needs to better co-exist with wildland fire and that it should be restored as an ecological process to some landscapes. How to best restore fire, however, is challenging because of excessive fuel buildup, risks to lives and property, and climate change. Designated wilderness and similarly protected lands turn out to be excellent “laboratories” for conducting studies on how fire naturally responds to climate, topography, weather, fuels, and past fires. As such, studies conducted in protected areas can provide information to managers, policy makers, the public, and other scientists that will better enable the restoration of fire as a natural process in a safe and effective manner.