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Science Spotlights

Wildfire in Alaskan black spruce forest. Photo by Laona DeWilde.
Fire severity mapping based on satellite imagery has shown mixed success in the North American boreal forest.  We present a new method that takes advantage of cloud-based computing and image repository and demonstrates promise for improving satellite-derived fire severity estimates in these forests.
Figure showing maps of maintain/protect/restore strategies, criterion areas, and graphs of revenue/cost/profit.
Data-driven decision making is the key to providing effective and efficient wildfire protection and sustainable use of natural resources. We prototyped a spatially explicit approach to data driven decision making to describe wildfire risk and the condition and costs associated with implementing multiple prescriptions for risk mitigation in the Blue Mountains of Oregon, USA.
Koa trees with a blanket of grass underneath.
Planting old pastures with the native tree Acacia koa is a common forest restoration strategy in Hawaii, with goals including natural secondary succession to more diverse forest. Often, however, alien grasses remain dominant in the understory, without native species naturally recruiting into restoration areas. We explored the causes.
Field crews walking through 15-month-old regenerating native Acacia koa in Hawaiʻi Volcanoes National Park.
Similar to the continental western United States, invasive, alien grasses in the Hawaiian Islands promote fire and may lead to alteration of forested ecosystems. We looked at how pre-fire grass cover, pre-fire tree density, and burn severity affected post-fire Acacia koa regeneration across different habitat types.
Thumbnail image of the Storymap on Partnership between LANDFIRE and FIA
Wildland fire management needs data that is both nationally consistent and locally relevant. Fifteen years ago, the LANDFIRE program was started to address these critical needs with an all-lands approach. Since the beginning, LANDFIRE has relied on Forest Inventory and Analysis data to provide comprehensive, and reliable field-based reference data and analysis support. Together, these programs now support more partners than ever.
A stand of fire-killed trees that before the 2014 King fire was a productive nest stand for spotted owls.
Large, severe fires (or “megafires”) are becoming more common in many forest systems, but relatively little is known about the longer-term effects of megafires on ecosystems and the wildlife that inhabit them. This work examines the persistent effects of a 2014 megafire on a well-studied population of California spotted owls, showing an enduring loss of individuals and nesting structures.
Colorful map of AZ and NM
RMRS scientist Samuel Cushman has led the development and application of approaches to optimize multi-scale wildlife habitat relationships. We applied these methods to several American marten datasets and found very strong scale dependence of habitat relationships. We further explored how these methods improve understanding of brown bear habitat selection in Spain and understand niche partitioning of two sympatric marten species.
Cage bottom with surrounding grass
  Ecological restoration commonly emphasizes reestablishing native plant communities under the assumption that restoring plant communities will also restore wildlife, but this assumption is rarely tested. We demonstrate that actively restoring exotic-dominated grasslands to more native plant communities can passively restore the structure and function of native small mammal communities. However, restored consumer functions like seed predation...
Small plants growing from a grassy area under a tree.
The native N-fixing tree Acacia koa (“koa”) is commonly used in restoration across the Hawaiian Islands, yet it can have unintended long-term consequences that stall restoration goals. Koa increases soil nutrients and facilitates exotic grasses that limit the regeneration of other native woody species needed for habitat restoration. We attempted to reverse high soil nitrogen conditions by adding carbon rich litter over 2.5 years under...
A subalpine fir tree.
Extensive mortality of subalpine fir has occurred over the past 25 years across western North America, but causes of this tree mortality are poorly understood. This research explores causes of this mortality and associated agents across multiple scales.