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Pacific Northwest Research Station

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Prioritize Fuel Treatments by Estimating Restoration Potential and Understanding Their Effects: The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP)

Josh Halofsky helps coordinate the four-state, multiagency Integrated Fuels Prioritization project for the PNW Research Station, under a joint venture agreement with Washington State Department of Natural Resources (WDNR). Economic Recovery funds both provided Josh with a new job, and allowed WDNR to use his salary savings to retain an employee who would have been laid off.

PNW Station scientist Miles Hemstrom directs this economic recovery project, which is a collaborative effort between several PNW station researchers and a variety of partners. The Oregon University System’s Institute for Natural Resources provides overall project coordination and the Oregon State University College of Forestry provides staffing to various modules. Nearly $5,700,000 in economic recovery funds have been allotted to the various partners for the project, creating about 50 high-tech jobs in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere so far. Here are stories of some of the individual stimulus fund recipients.

Primary products of ILAP are a set of models, tools, and integrated analyses that can be applied across all wildlands in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington, allowing the watershed-scale simulation of alternative land management scenarios (such as fuels treatments, harvesting regimes, and restoration) into the future. State-transition models (STM), which predict the sequence of changes that will occur to vegetation structure and species composition under different types of disturbances, are the foundation of ILAP. Based on decades of research on vegetation ecology and dynamics, STMs have been compiled or developed to represent forest, woodland, shrubland, grassland, and desert conditions. By combining STM information with on-the-ground, spatially explicit data through a geographic information system (GIS), ILAP outputs can forecast and map vegetation changes in the landscape through time. The future landscape conditions derived from STM and GIS are then linked to a series of modules (described below), allowing users to answer questions about future wildlife habitats, fuels, economics, rural communities, and climate change effects. User-friendly tools (decision support) integrate landscape conditions and forecasts, giving managers, planners, and policymakers the ability to plan and prioritize treatment areas and management activities that will, among other things, reduce hazardous fuels, improve or protect key wildlife habitat, and generate economic value for rural communities. [Insert Hemstrom ILAP diagram] The stimulus-funded portion of the ILAP project is allowing for the initial development of the underlying data and modules for the modeling system throughout the four-state area, and prototype model testing (including the involvement of user groups) in landscapes of central and eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and the Sky Islands area of Arizona.

The major partners for the STM and GIS portion of the ILAP project include the U.S. Forest Service Pacific Northwest and Southwestern Regions, Institute for Natural Resources, Ecosystems Management, Inc., and the University of New Mexico; partners for specific modules are shown below. In 2011, the ILAP was acknowledged as one of eight exemplary case studies by the Farm Foundation and was selected for presentation at the Foundation’s Agriculture, Food, Nutrition, and Natural Resources Research & Development Roundtable in Washington, D.C.

ILAP MODULES (webinars for each of these modules can be viewed at

Wildlife Habitat—This module addresses questions about the amount and quality of habitat for species of interest in forests, woodlands, shrublands, and grasslands. The vegetation “state” classes from the STM are linked to species-habitat relationships information to predict how wildlife species might respond to changes brought about by different disturbance regimes and resource management approaches. The OSU College of Forestry and the Institute for Natural Resources are partners in this module.

Fuel Characterizations— In this module, the fire hazard levels associated with the different “states” of vegetation in the STM are developed, using actual data on fuel properties from forest inventories. The module uses the Fuel Characteristic Classification System to relate the fuel properties of various vegetation types to the likelihood of a fire of a given severity, size, and duration. The module allows the user to see how fire hazard changes as vegetation matures, or is subjected to different kinds of disturbance or management. Partners for this module include the Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory and the University of Washington.

Fuel Treatment Economics— This module evaluates the costs (including harvesting and transportation costs) and revenues gained from both commercial timber and biomass products that might result from fuels treatments and other management activities. The module’s outputs include maps and timelines that show the spatial and temporal flow of products and profits by land ownership classes, based on alternative management approaches in different vegetation classes from the STM. The fuel treatment economic analyses are currently limited to Northwest landscapes, though the methods could be applied to the Southwest.

Community Economics— The focus of this module is to allow users to analyze which areas and types of fuels or other vegetation management treatments might be of the greatest benefit to distressed rural communities. It uses demographic and economic data to score communities within watersheds according to socioeconomic distress, their capacity (in terms of labor force and infrastructure) to develop businesses that can process and transport biomass products, and the degree to which they have been affected by changes in forest policy (resulting in a decline of federal payments to counties for timber). The OSU College of Forestry is a partner in this module.

Climate Change Modules

Climate Change and Vegetation—In this module, the STM models are “climatized” to reflect probable alterations to disturbance patterns and vegetation types under the most likely future climate change scenarios. In addition to helping land managers envision potential changes in vegetation structure, the tools will address questions of productivity, carbon storage, water supplies, and other parameters. The Conservation Biology Institute is the primary partner for this module.
Watersheds and Climate Change – NetMap, a system of watershed science analytical tools, digital maps, and databases developed by the Earth Systems Institute ( is the foundation for projecting the probable consequences of climate change to a variety of watershed and fish habitat attributes, at a finer scale than is typical for climate change models. The products of this module allow prediction and mapping of such attributes as increased winter flooding, decreased summer flows, problematic stream temperatures in areas of high intrinsic potential for salmonid habitat, and areas of increased risk of post-fire erosion and sedimentation. The watershed and climate change analyses are currently limited to Northwest landscapes and watersheds containing Federal lands.

Fire Probabilities and Climate Change— This module uses a multiscale (from individual trees to landscapes) model of climate-based fire behavior and vegetation succession to simulate the effects of altered fire regimes that might result from different climate change scenarios. The results of the model are passed through to the STM for integration with the other modules. This module is being developed in partnership with the OSU College of Forestry, and is being tested on Oregon’s Deschutes National Forest. The fire probabilities and climate change analyses are currently limited to Central Oregon landscapes.

Decision Support—the decision support modules (Ecosystem Management Decision Support ( and Optimized Decision Support System) integrate all of the components (STM, GIS, and the products of the other modules) of the ILAP in ways that help users understand the relationships among factors operating in landscapes, and develop solutions to address different sets of goals. Depending on the tools employed, users can model the consequences of different land management or restoration strategies under different sets of assumptions, or they may search for the “optimal” solution given criteria of varying weights. In some cases the tools are spatially explicit, thus users can create maps and analyze how networks or processes work in real landscapes. In other cases, users may want to analyze which of a set of factors contribute the most to a predicted outcome, or how sensitive various factors are relative to each other. Ultimately, it is through the decision support tools that ILAP’s goal of enhancing future decisionmaking will be realized. Analysts from the OSU College of Forestry are the key partners in the decision support modules.

Western Landscapes Explorer Portal—Public access to ILAP data, models and tools, as well as other landscape-level information will be through the Western Landscapes Explorer portal. This portal will be launched in conjunction with World Forests Day on March 21, 2012. The long-term goal is to develop, maintain, and provide useful landscape-level data and tools that inform restoration decision-making across all Western States. The Institute for Natural Resources and OSU Libraries are partners in this module.


Rich Gwozdz: Building tools managers can actually use

Rich Gwozdz says that before he began working for the Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) team, he was “probably what the media calls the underemployed.” Gwozdz joined the ILAP team to build and run ecological models and analyze results. He has since emerged as the team’s go-to person for in-house software design and development.

Gwozdz enjoys the collaborative aspects of the project. His working space itself exemplifies collaboration: he has office space near his home in Olympia, Washington, through an agreement between the Forest Service, the Washington Department of Natural Resources, and the Oregon University System’s Institute for Natural Resources.

Gwozdz believes his work on the project will advance his career. He says the project has given him the opportunity to increase his skill set and meet people in the field. Ultimately Gwozdz hopes to continue working in information technology within a natural resources field. Working for this project, “I’ve built a lot of tools that I think people will end up using to turn data into meaningful information managers can actually use,” he says.

Simon Bisrat: It’s about the application

In 2009, Simon Bisrat considered his graduate school colleagues at Utah State University and saw a relatively bleak employment future for them. Most of his classmates weren’t getting jobs. So he stayed in school, putting off his thesis defense date. “I was looking for jobs for about eight months,” he says, “for a position where science and management interface.” When he got the job working on the ILAP, he scrambled to defend his thesis and move his family from Logan, Utah, to Portland, Oregon. It wasn’t the first move for Bisrat: He has lived in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Australia, and, now, two states within the United States.

On the project, Bisrat is gaining experience with a collaborative team of scientists, and is beginning to better understand forests of the Southwest and Pacific Northwest. His family reports that, during their travels, his pursuit of knowledge about the plant species he is modeling sometimes results in needing to remind him what a vacation is for.

Bisrat hopes to pursue a career in academia, and he believes his current position will help him both obtain and excel in future work. About this project, he says he’s learned that “it’s not just about the actual science; it’s about the application.”

Theresa Burcsu: Experiences to draw on

Theresa Burcsu is blunt about how the Recovery Act has helped her family: “Both my husband and I would be unemployed right now,” she says, “and we’d be sweating, because we have a small child and a house payment.”

Thanks to stimulus funding for the ILAP, Burcsu was unemployed for only one day as she transitioned between postdoctoral work for the Forest Service and a new job with the project. Recovery Act funding allows Burcsu to continue the work she has been doing for years on a project that was essentially a precursor to the ILAP. Burcsu’s role is to predict the occurrence of different vegetation types through modeling and dynamic vegetation mapping. She hopes her work will help bridge the gap between scientists who work with broad-scale landscape modeling, and others, like wildlife biologists, who typically work at much finer scales.

Burcsu feels that working collaboratively with such a large and diverse team of modelers has enhanced her understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of different types of models. She appreciates the added knowledge base of a collaborative project, and believes it will help in her career over the long run. “Now I have not only my experience to draw on,” she says, “but I have all these other people’s experiences to draw on.”

Janine Salwasser: “Outreach is my passion.”

The way Janine Salwasser sees it, the success of the ILAP depends on the combination of science and outreach. To that end, she’s made a goal of coordinating at least one outreach event each month. So far, this is going well. “Outreach is my passion,” she says while paging through her project calendar.

As the project coordinator for the ILAP, Salwasser knows each of the fifty or so people whose jobs have been created or saved by the project. She also knows more about land management priorities in the West than she ever envisioned. When Salwasser’s previous fixed-term project ended, she expected to be unemployed for six months—but thanks to the Recovery Act, spent only two weeks without a job. She realizes how lucky she has been: “I was competing with out-of-work Ph.D.s,” she said, “A very highly qualified unemployed workforce.”

Salwasser enjoys working with scientists and other staff to figure out how to make their discoveries more accessible. This project represents Salwasser’s first foray into evaluating landscapes across multiple states. She thinks the project could serve as a template for national-scale landscape planning, and hopes the project might open some doors for her to work at the national scale. Most importantly, though, Salwasser appreciates the job she has now. “It’s one thing to get a job in this climate,” she said, “and it’s another to get one that you love doing.”

US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Tuesday,26July2016 at16:41:44CDT

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