USDA Forest Service

Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team


Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team
Pacific Wildland Fire Sciences Laboratory

400 N 34th Street, Suite 201
Seattle, WA 98103

(206) 732-7800






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Newsletter Archive | News Flash Archive



LinkFuel Treatment Support System (IFTDSS) Goes Live in April

Fuels treatment planning and analysis is expected to become easier when the Interagency Fuel Treatment Decision Support System (IFTDSS) is now available. Introductory videos are included. Fuels specialists, technicians, or planners can find assistant in software tools, burn plan writing fire effects, fire behavior modeling, smoke modeling, and smoke management.



LinkGearing up for Field Season Work in California, Florida, South Carolina, and Washington

FERA’s field data collection season will start in March, be in full force by April, and winds down by the end of September.

Potential sites for such work include Joint Base Lewis-McChord, Oak Creek and Sherman Creek Wildlife Areas, and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington state,; Tall Timbers Research Station, Ordway-Swisher Biological Station, and Austin Cary Forest in Florida; the Boise National Forest in Idaho; the Eldorado National Forest in California; and a site in South Carolina.


LinkNew Warning Statement on Digital Photo Series and the Pile Calculator

Users accessing either the Digital Photo Series or the Pile Calculator through a link on another U.S. government website will begin to encounter a warning statement, and will need to accept all potential risks before proceeding. Access from nonfederal computers will remain the same. 

The Forest Service now requires all its websites, even those served on non-government servers, to be under a security situation that is different from that of the University of Washington. For many years, both the Digital Photo Series and Pile Calculator have been run using a University of Washington server that does not follow these federal protocols.



LinkAnnual Fire Research Project at Tall Timbers Focuses on Prescribed Fire Science

Through the recently created Prescribed Fire Science Consortium (RxScience), Tall Timbers, managers, and researchers from across the country have teamed up to focus on the pressing needs of prescribed fire science. This group intends to address the problems of better predicting fire behavior due to varied ignition patterns, resulting smoke transport, and fire effects from a collaborative approach.

Because of the complex nature of fire science, interdisciplinary teams are being formed to advance the understanding of prescribed fire and how it works on the landscape. Just as importantly, because experience is the key to learning, managers must be part of any team from the beginning.

FERA is currently developing a study on improving post-fire tree mortality predictions based on better characterization of local fuels, fire behavior, and resulting tree physiology. This work is a collaboration with scientists from the Southern Research Station in Athens, Northern Research Station (in Ohio and WV), Rocky Mountain Research Station in Missoula, the Los Alamos National Lab, and the Tall Timbers Research Station.



LinkApproaches to Wildland Fire Management Addressed at National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine

Morgan Varner, FERA’s team leader, attended this meeting of experts examining and discussing the contributions made in wildland fire science in the last 100 years. It will include a review of how this research may have influenced management decisions on wildland fires and in communities, and the most pressing research needs for the coming decades.

All meeting discussions are archived on video.




ArrowClimate Change and the Eco-Hydrology of Fire: Will Area Burned Increase in a Warming Western USA?

Wildfire area is predicted to increase with global warming. Almost all existing models make this prediction based on the idea that a hotter and drier climate will naturally cause more frequent and larger fires. FERA’s Don McKenzie examined drought–fire correlations across the western United States, in ecosystems from temperate rainforests to deserts, and published his results in the journal Ecological Applications.

In many forests, the correlations are strong, but in many other ecosystems the equivalence “hotter and drier equals more fire” either breaks down or is contingent on other factors such as previous-year climate, suggesting that as the climate warms, the effects of drought on fire may change. Predictions of future wildfire area need to include this contingency, otherwise they may overestimate both the area burned by future wildfire and the accuracy of projections.



LinkDecomposition Rates for Hand-Piled Fuels

Smoke emissions are a function of fuel loading and fuel consumption; therefore, knowledge about the rate of decay can be used to more accurately estimate the biomass of piles as they age and the resulting emissions when they are burned.

As with broadcast prescribed burning and wildland fires, smoke emissions from pile burning are affected by the amount and physical characteristics of the fuels involved, which change over time as existing fuel particles decompose.

Clint Wright (researcher forester emeritus) and a field crew constructed piles in eastern Washington and north-central New Mexico were weighed periodically between October 2011 and June 2015 to develop decay-rate constants that are useful for estimating the rate of piled biomass loss over time.



LinkArea Burned in Alpine Treeline Ecotones Reflects Region-wide Trends

The direct effects of climate change on alpine treeline ecotones – the transition zones between subalpine forest and non-forested alpine vegetation – have been studied extensively, but climate-induced changes in disturbance regimes have received less attention.

Don McKenzie worked on research which modeled two components of the alpine treeline ecotone—subalpine parkland, which extends upward from subalpine forest and non-forested vegetation; and non-forested alpine vegetation.

We expected these vegetation types to burn proportionally less than the entire ecoregion, reflecting higher fuel moisture and longer historical fire rotations. In four of eight ecoregions, the proportion of area burned in subalpine parkland (3%–8%) was greater than the proportion of area burned in the entire ecoregion (2%–7%). In contrast, in all but one ecoregion, a small proportion (≤4%) of the alpine vegetation burned.

Area burned regionally was a significant predictor of area burned in subalpine parkland and alpine, suggesting that similar climatic drivers operate at higher and lower elevations or that fire spreads from neighboring vegetation into the alpine treeline ecotone.



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