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Identifying vulnerability of southwestern landscapes to changes in climate and wildfire regimes

Status: 
Action
Dates: 
May, 2016

graphic for the SW FireClime toolFire-climate interactions are complex and mediated by climate effects on vegetation productivity and resulting fuel loads, fuel conditions, and environmental conditions at the time and place of ignition. As part of a larger Joint Fire Sciences Project (JFSP), RMRS scientist, Megan Friggens, developed a vulnerability assessment tool based on the current scientific understanding of fire-landscape interactions. The resulting FireCLIME Vulnerability Assessment (VA) tool scores ecosystems based on current and future expected climate-fire-vegetation relationships as they relate to user inputs about desired future conditions. This tool provides inference on the mechanisms driving vulnerability and which management strategies may be most effective for reducing risk under changing climate conditions. By identifying which fire regime and ecosystem components are most likely to be affected by climate, and which treatments are able to mitigate impacts, the FireCLIME VA can provide information critical for planning under changing fire regimes and fuel conditions. Over the last year, RMRS scientists and collaborators have used the FireCLIME tool to assess landscapes in three different National Forests: The Jemez and Lincoln NF in New Mexico and the Bighorn NF in Colorado. Two of these assessments were co-produced with National Forest staff in an effort to provide training and tailor the results of the assessment to the specific needs of each National Forest.

Approach

  • Prescribed fire in the Southwestern U.S. Photo by Rachel Loehmen, USGS.
    Prescribed fire in the Southwestern U.S. Photo by Rachel Loehmen, USGS.
    The first case study focused on ponderosa pine and dry mixed conifer ecosystems in the Jemez National Forest located in northern New Mexico. The FireCLIME team used this case study to test how well the VA tool could assess ecosystem vulnerability based only on published scientific research. Several assessment iterations were made to: 1) outline the specific ways each distinct ecosystem responds to future climate change; 2) test the effectiveness of three treatment alternatives (outlined in the 2015 Final Environmental Impact Statement) for reducing vulnerability; and, 3) produce scores under different weighting schemes that represent different types of management focus.
  • For the second case study, RMRS scientists worked with the Lincoln National Forest (LNF), in southern NM, to assess the vulnerability Ponderosa Pine within the Perk-Grindstone treatment project. This assessment was completed over two half-day workshops held virtually. During the first workshop, RMRS presented a training webinar and began the process to collect data necessary for the VA. During the second workshop, RMRS and collaborators worked with LNF staff to determine desired future conditions for landscape components and fire regimes, responses of ecosystem and fuel components to climate-fire interactions, and management strategies for comparisons. Following the workshop, RMRS collaborators permutated several iterations of the tool to estimate vulnerability for these two ecosystems under different climate scenarios and weighting schemes.
  • The third case study is ongoing and is being conducted in collaboration with the Big Horn National Forest (BNF). The first virtual workshop, conducted in April of 2019, focused on Lodgepole pine ecosystems in the Buffalo Municipal Watershed. As with the LNF, RMRS and collaborators will compare vulnerability among two ecosystems and under several management and weighting scenarios.
Diagram of underlying inputs for each element of the FireCLIME framework and major outputs. Categories include calculating exposure, calculating intrinsic sensitivity and adaptive capacity and extrinsic adaptive capacity: effect of management.
Diagram of underlying inputs for each element of the FireCLIME framework and major outputs. Categories include calculating exposure, calculating intrinsic sensitivity and adaptive capacity and extrinsic adaptive capacity: effect of management.
 

Key Findings

  • The FireCLIME VA tool works equally well as a stand-alone research tool or within an interactive session. However, literature based assessments tend to be more broadly applicable and are probably not appropriate or useful for project level decision making processes. 
  • If the FireCLIME VA tool is meant to provide project level information, it is critical that managers have role in defining the baseline conditions used within the tool, specifically the desired future conditions and management strategies. 
  • The FireCLIME VA is able to distinguish between ecological and fuel based drivers of vulnerability. Similarly, FireCLIME VA results were able to identify the specific ways different management strategies might or might not reduce vulnerability through their influence on ecological and fuel components.
  • Case studies for the Jemez and Lincoln National Forests are currently being drafted for publication. 
Preliminary results from the Jemez NF, New Mexico. Figure shows the change in vulnerability scores for different weighting scenarios and 3 treatment types. Lower scores indicate greater reduction in vulnerability.
Preliminary results from the Jemez NF, New Mexico. Figure shows the change in vulnerability scores for different weighting scenarios and 3 treatment types. Lower scores indicate greater reduction in vulnerability.

Publications

Friggens, Megan M. ; Loehman, R. ; Thode, A. ; Flatley, W. ; Evans, A. ; Bunn, W. ; Wilcox, C. ; Mueller, S. ; Yocom, L. ; Falk, D. , 2019

Other

Download FireCLIME v3.1

For those who wish to conduct their own assessment using the FireCLIME (Fire-Climate Landscape Interactions in Montane Ecosystems) Vulnerability Assessment tool:

  • The FireCLIME tool, a macro enabled excel file, can be downloaded here

 



Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
Co-Investigators:
Rachel A. Loehman - USGS
Andrea Thode - Northern Arizona University
William Flatley - University of Central Arkansas
Craig Wilcox - USFS
Bernie Bornong - USFS

Collaborators:
Windy Bunn - NPS
Zander Evans - Forest Guild
Donald Falk - University of Arizona
Larissa Yocom - Utah State University

Research Staff:
Stephanie Mueller - Northern Arizona University

Funding Contributors:
Joint Fire Science Program
Grassland, Shrubland and Desert Ecosystems Program