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Science Spotlights

Concerns about climate change effects on cold-water biodiversity sparked broad multi-agency collaborative efforts throughout the American West. U.S. Forest Service research teams led development of massive interagency databases that now enable precise mapping of critical habitats and species distributions in streams flowing through 101 National Forests.
Forest plot data is matched to gridded landscape data from LANDFIRE using the random forests method. The output consists of a grid of the IDs for the best-matching plot for each pixel.
Maps of the number, size, and species of trees in forests across the western United States are desirable for a number of applications including estimating terrestrial carbon resources, tree mortality following wildfires, and for forest inventory. However, detailed mapping of trees for large areas is not feasible with current technologies. We used a statistical method called random forests for matching forest plot data with biophysical...
One year after the 2011 Miller Creek fire in the Gila Wilderness, New Mexico. Photo by Sean Parks
In recent decades, many landscapes across the western United States have experienced substantial fire activity. These fires consume fuels and alter vegetation structure, which may be able to serve as a natural fuel treatment in the same manner as mechanical treatments or prescribed fire. Knowing that fire occurrence, size, and severity are limited by recent wildfires should provide greater flexibility and confidence in managing fire incidents...
Maps of the likelihood of unsuppressed ignitions spreading outside the wilderness study area boundary for each month of ignition in simulated fire seasons.
A goal of fire management in wilderness is to allow fire to play its natural ecological role without intervention. Unfortunately, most unplanned ignitions in wilderness are suppressed, in part because of the risk they might pose to values outside of the wilderness. We capitalize on recent advances in fire risk analysis to demonstrate a risk-based approach for revealing where unplanned ignitions in wilderness pose little risk to non-wilderness...
Drylands view from a Sky Mountain
Drylands, characterized by scarcity of water, globally support about two billion people. While most of these people live in developing nations, drylands in North America cover an extensive area and have a variety of uses. Drylands are experiencing noticeable stress and degradation from increasing populations and a changing climate, so it is important to know the current conditions and changes that have occurred over time for sustainable...
Armillaria mellea is a parasitic fungus that frequently causes root disease in forests of the US.  Image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Mars 2002 under a Creative Commons License
Growing forests take greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. National forests must account for how natural and management-oriented disturbance processes affect carbon storage as an ecosystem benefit.  Although it doesn’t always cause large, eye-catching areas of mortality, root disease likely affects carbon storage by reducing tree growth and regeneration over vast areas.  However, no previously available tools allowed...
A world map displaying the density of ModelMap downloads
Working in the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program, we have access to a valuable collection of detailed information about forests on thousands of sample plots distributed across the country. This information is used to produce summaries of forestland characteristics for a variety of geographic areas such as states or individual national forests. We wanted a simple tool to extend this sample data and make detailed maps of forest...
A sporulating white pine blister rust canker from a recent infection on a branch of a susceptible limber pine (photo by Anna W. Schoettle).
Movement of seedlings with disease resistance from northern to southern Colorado may result in planting failure. Identification of genotypes resistant to white pine blister rust in the southern Rockies is needed at the finer scale of a national forest scale rather than the region.       
Lodgepole forest cut Tenderfoot Creed Experimental Forest
Many lodgepole pine forests in Montana were historically a mix of ages and tree sizes as a result of mixed-severity fires. Now the forests have trees mostly the same size and crowns touch so that when fires burn, they burn as large and severe crown fires. This study looked twelve years after two patterns of thinning and burning, to see if the cutting patterns and regrowth could influence fire behavior. 
When trees are injured they develop physical and chemical boundaries around the injury wound to resist infection. Trees also grow new wood to close over the injured place. Injuries caused by fires result in fire scars and we use the patterns of scarring among many trees to understand when and how often fires burn.  This research helps to understand the biological process of fire scar formation and use it to improve fire history analysis.