USDA Forest Service
 

Pacific Southwest Research Station

 

Pacific Southwest Research Station
800 Buchanan Street
West Annex Building
Albany, CA 94710-0011

(510) 559-6300

United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service. USDA logo which links to the department's national site. Forest Service logo which links to the agency's national site.

About Us: Research Accomplishments 2012

[an error occurred while processing this directive]

Fire and Fuels Program

Landscape of a forest covering mountains. There is evidence of fire that have burned out trees, turning them brown. [Photo by Steve McKelvey] On-click enlarges photo.Landscape of a forest covering mountains. There is evidence of fire that have burned out trees, turning them brown. [Photo by Steve McKelvey]

Managing fire and the vegetation conditions that fuel fire is a paramount challenge to land managers throughout most of California, Hawai'i and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands. The mission of the Fire and Fuels Program is to provide scientific findings that will improve management actions intended to enhance resiliency and sustainability of wildland ecosystems affected by fire, and reduce the potential for adverse effects resulting from wildland fire, including loss of life and property.

Research focuses on the following areas:

  • Improve measurement, modeling, and prediction of wildland fire and weather phenomena in complex landscapes and fuels;
  • Determine the ecological effects of fire and fire removal on landscapes throughout California, Hawai'i, and the U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands;
  • Evaluate the short and long-term outcomes of fuels, fire, and post-fire management strategies;
  • Determine and quantify the interactions between climate, vegetation, and fire in the face of climate change and improve our understanding and predictability of these interactions in order to manage forests and wildlands more effectively; and
  • Describe and quantify uncertainty and risk in a science-based decision-making framework for fire and land management planning.

2012 Research Highlights

Science helps guide forest planning

Station scientists led an innovative year-long effort to synthesize and distill recent scientific research which will guide the revision of land and resource management plans for national forests in the Sierra Nevada. Highlights of this approach included analysis and design of treatments that reduce the extent of severe wildfire while avoiding impacts to sensitive species; consider opportunities to promote resilience of local communities; and apply principles of adaptive management to evaluate outcomes. The science team produced an integrated report on strategies to promote long-term socioecological resilience in the Sierra Nevada bioregion in the face of climate change, increases in wildfire severity and extent, demographic changes, and other expected stressors.

Managing wildfire may increase forest restoration

Forests in the Sierra Nevada are vulnerable to large and severe wildfires that have the potential to impact human communities, habitat for sensitive wildlife species and water resources. Increasing the amount of fire on a landscape to reduce the potential damage of future wildfires may seem counterintuitive. However, station scientists have found that using managed wildfire under less-than-extreme fire weather conditions across large portions of Sierra Nevada forests may alleviate the current hazardous fuels/fire deficit problem.

Fire size and severity trends in Northern California show that managed wildfire may reduce severe fire outbreaks

Research indicates that fire size and severity have been increasing over the last several decades. This assessment of large wildfires in Northern California indicates that using managed wildfire under less-than-extreme fire weather conditions forests may help alleviate the current hazardous fuels/fire deficit problem. Analysis of wildfire trends from 1910 - 2008 revealed ways to increase forest resilience and limit severe fire effects, reducing vulnerability to large and severe wildfires by managing wildfires for resource benefits. Findings suggest that under conditions typical of widespread lightning-fire outbreaks, wildfires could be more extensively used to achieve ecological and management objectives in Northern California.

Shown in the FireMapper image here are fire-associated surface temperatures and retardant applications by a DC-10 aircraft at the 2008 Freeway Fire in Orange County, California, on November 15th, 2008.  At the time of imaging a Santa Ana wind was driving the fire west in grass and chaparral north of the 91 Freeway.  The upper image at 14:02 Pacific Standard Time depicts a view of the fire from the northwest and shows the alignment of retardant along a ridge trending east to west. [U.S. Forest Service] On-click enlarges photo.Shown in the FireMapper image here are fire-associated surface temperatures and retardant applications by a DC-10 aircraft at the 2008 Freeway Fire in Orange County, California, on November 15th, 2008. At the time of imaging a Santa Ana wind was driving the fire west in grass and chaparral north of the 91 Freeway. The upper image at 14:02 Pacific Standard Time depicts a view of the fire from the northwest and shows the alignment of retardant along a ridge trending east to west. [U.S. Forest Service] Photo of trees in forest with fire burning in the underbrush. [U.S. Forest Service] On-click enlarges photo.Photo of trees in forest with fire burning in the underbrush. [U.S. Forest Service]

FireMapper technology tracks effectiveness of fire retardant

Aerial assault on wildland fires with air tankers and fire retardant is a critical and expensive element of modern fire suppression. Yet the practical effects of retardant application on fire behavior have not been critically assessed across the range of conditions encountered in active, large wildfires. PSW is using its specialized FireMapper remote-sensing system in a nationwide study quantifying and assessing the response of fires to retardant applied under operational conditions.

Station partners with NOAA to predict fire risk

An in-depth knowledge of the spatial and temporal variability of fire weather variables is needed to predict fire danger. In response to this need, the Forest Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) began engaging in collaborative research in weather and climate-related physical fire science. Station scientists will develop a management system that can predict the timing, location, and severity of wildfires. This collaborative research will enhance the understanding of fire risk using climate forecasts, and will provide a tool to improve the development of forest and wildland management strategies.

Visit the Fire and Fuels Program pages on our website.

Last Modified: May 3, 2013 10:50:00 AM