Adaptation to wildfire: A fish storyAuthor(s): John Kirkland; Rebecca Flitcroft; Gordon Reeves; Paul Hessburg
Source: Science Findings 198. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.
Publication Series: Science Findings
Station: Pacific Northwest Research Station
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DescriptionIn the Pacific Northwest, native salmon and trout are some of the toughest survivors on the block. Over time, these fish have evolved behavioral adaptations to natural disturbances, and they rely on these disturbances to deliver coarse sediment and wood that become complex stream habitat. Powerful disturbances such as wildfire, postfire landslides, and debris flows may be detrimental to fish populations in the short term, but over time, they enrich instream habitats, enhancing long-term fish survival and productivity.
Over the past century, dams, roads, and timber harvest practices have contributed to the decline in the amount and complexity of salmon and trout habitat in the Pacific Northwest. New research indicates that wildfire suppression adjacent to streams also may have inadvertently reduced the quality of aquatic habitat. The accumulation of forest fuels also has set the stage for higher-than-normal fire intensity, and perhaps larger fires that may cause extensive damage to local fish populations. This poses a significant problem for isolated and vulnerable fish populations such as bull trout.
Scientists with the U.S. Forest Service’s Pacific Northwest Research Station and partners modeled the potential effects wildfire on spring Chinook salmon and bull trout habitat in Washington’s Wenatchee River subbasin. Their findings indicate that, in some situations, wildfires or managed wildfires may be a useful management strategy for aquatic habitat restoration.
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CitationKirkland, John; Flitcroft, Rebecca; Reeves, Gordon; Hessburg, Paul. 2017. Adaptation to wildfire: A fish story. Science Findings 198. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 5 p.
KeywordsChinook, salmon, bull trout, habitat, fire.
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