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Science Spotlights

The photo shows a suburban neighborhood interwoven with trees.
To understand how local, state and federal investments are shaping North Central Washington's wildfire management system, a team of researchers with the Co-Management of Fire Risk Transmission Partnership (CoMFRT) conducted a survey of nearly 300 wildfire management professionals. The analyses identifies who is part of the wildfire management system, what their roles are, where they work, and how they are connected to each other. 
Collecting floral scent of blanketflower (Gaillardia aristata), one of 47 plant species sampled in the community
In diverse communities, bees visit flowers of plants, forming complex webs of interactions. The structure of these webs can tell us about how communities function and guide their conservation and restoration, yet we know little about the cues that regulate these webs. We analyzed floral scent of 47 plant species and bee visitors across the growing season in a meadow community and found that floral scent is a key cue structuring bee-forb...
Mt. Jefferson, covered in snow, is highly visible behind a burned section of pine trees.
A new tool developed through collaboration between RMRS and researchers at Oregon State University tracks treefall through time and may just save lives. Researchers found that snag hazard to fire responders decreased significantly 10-years post fire, but that in some areas, unsafe conditions could last as long as 35 years. Maps of snag hazard risk can be used by decision makers and fire responders to reduce exposure and improve the safety of...
Participants sit at tables in a meeting hall, completing fun, interactive exercise
A recently released ‘social vulnerability’ protocol provides a detailed manual for applying social science to support forest and river planning efforts (e.g., forest plan revision). Specifically, the protocol is designed to engage the public about the importance of (and tradeoffs among) ecosystem services, as well as those drivers of change influential to such benefits.
A large scale mountain pine beetle outbreak in the Gospel Hump Wilderness of central Idaho.Photo credit: Chad Nelson. Photo was taken on September 18th, 2018
Forest insects kill large numbers of trees in the western United States each year. The US Forest Service monitors and quantifies tree mortality from insect outbreaks using annual aerial detection surveys. The Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) is demonstrating how satellite imagery can be used to produce annual maps of tree mortality, as the Forest Service anticipates relying more on satellite imagery, a cheaper alternative to aerial...
A suspected lynx has triggered this photo from a game camera in Montana (photo credit: Don Heffington).
A new project showed that animal footprints in snow contain enough DNA for species identification, even when the snow was many months old. The study extracted DNA from snow samples collected within animal tracks as well as areas where the animal had been photographed months earlier. Newly developed genetic assays were applied and positively detected the DNA of each species, performing nearly flawlessly on samples previously considered too poor...
A photograph of downed trees with mullein in the foreground, green coniferous trees behind the mullein, and mountains with snow in the background.
Model development combining multiple data sources to leverage data source strengths and for improved parameter precision has increased, but with limited discussion on precision gain versus effort. Some data sources take more effort than others, thus knowing how much improvement is gained with these monitoring metrics is important for allocating samples on the landscape. Our framework allows research and monitoring programs to evaluate optimal...
Photograph from on top of a hill looking down on a landscape of dead and dying trees. Green vegetation in the foreground, blue skies with big white clouds in the background.
To conserve and promote biological diversity, land managers must identify suitable habitat for species of conservation concern. Managers can then restrict potentially detrimental activities (e.g., salvage logging) to areas of lower habitat suitability, and target beneficial activities (e.g., restoration) where habitat suitability is higher. We developed FIRE-BIRD, an ArcGIS tool, to map habitat suitability for disturbance-associated woodpeckers...
Ponderosa pine regeneration is sensitive to moisture availability and have limited seed dispersal. Ponderosa forest recovery can be delayed following disturbance. Drier and hotter conditions may reduce ponderosa regeneration (Photo by R. Addington, TNC).
Understanding the structure of understory vegetation in forests is critical for estimating carbon stocks, fuel loading, and assessing wildlife habit. Using nationally collected inventory data shows promise in providing better estimates and assessments in these areas over large geographical regions.
Prescribed crown fire at Manning Creek, Fishlake National Forest. Photo credit: Roger Ottmar. Photo taken: June 2019
The broad consensus among fire and fuel scientists and managers is that we need to reduce hazardous fuel accumulations on many more acres to mitigate the risk and severity of wildfires. But mechanical fuel treatments are expensive! Prescribed fire is a more cost effective tool to reduce fuel loads and to restore and maintain fuel conditions to something closer to the historical norm.

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