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Director's ChoiceLow-cost Technology Allows Managers to Measure Fuels and Fire Effects with the Push of a Button

A representation of the three-dimensional structure data collected as projected on a dome.

Wildfire and prescribed fire change the forest in many ways. Land managers need data about these changes but traditional methods for measuring them are tedious, expensive, and dangerous, often limiting the feasibility of collecting data at scales necessary to employ the best available science in management. Is it possible to revolutionize these measurements with the push of a button?

Wildfire and prescribed fire change the three-dimensional structure and composition of ecosystems. Land managers need data to understand these changes and develop sound strategies for mitigating negative effects, such as soil erosion or forest loss. Additionally, land managers need a better way to measure the changes in forest structure resulting from treatments such as prescribed fire, thinning, or other fuels management to evaluate if these management actions are having the desired effect. Northern Research Station scientists and their collaborators have been examining how low-cost terrestrial laser scanners can be easily used by forest managers and technicians to collect these data. Scans provide plot-level data that can be used to estimate three-dimensional fuel structure and fire effects at a pace and scale not previously feasible for land managers to collect, and this information is vital to understanding how a fire might spread and treatment effectiveness. The manager-collected data can be uploaded to the cloud and an automated scripts process, then returned to managers for their interpretation. These data are important individually but can also be used to calibrate landscape-scale remote sensing data products and help to build a long-term dataset of three-dimensional plot data.


Publications and Resources

External Partners

  • Aaron Maxwell, West Virginia University
  • Kevin Hiers, Tall Timbers Research Station and Land Conservancy
  • Scott Pokswinski and Alexis Everland, Tall Timbers Research Station
  • Jon Wallace, US Fish & Wildlife Service
  • Chad Andersen, National Park Service
  • New Jersey Forest Fire Service