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Individual Highlight

Breaking the Grass-Fire Cycle in Dryland Ecosystems in Hawai'i

Photo of Dry forest restoration in Hawai'i. Forest ServiceDry forest restoration in Hawai'i. Forest ServiceSnapshot : Scientists develop practical tools to manage and restore tropical dry forest landscapes on military lands in the Pacific

Principal Investigators(s) :
Cordell, Susan 
Research Location : Hawai'i
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2012
Highlight ID : 103


Tropical dry forest landscapes on military lands in the Pacific region are declining at alarming rates, largely a result of fire that originates with the invasion of native ecosystems by fire-prone invasive grasses and shrubs. These novel fire regimes have serious impacts on cultural and natural resources and on the health and safety of the region's citizens.

Forest Service scientists believe that using science-based tools developed to strategically inform natural resource management may be the most cost-effective approach to protecting and restoring native biodiversity and to reducing fuel loads, fire danger, and fire impacts while also controlling invasive species establishment and spread. Scientists combined newly developed, remotely sensed information with field-based studies on the Island of Hawai'i to

  1. define the current condition of and historical changes to tropical dry forests,
  2. develop technology for restoration planning and ecosystem monitoring,
  3. quantify restoration potential and develop restoration prescriptions for remnant dryland ecosystems, and
  4. develop effective fire risk-reduction measures that protect forest fragments and initiate succession of degraded grasslands into native woody communities.

Remotely sensed data have provided insights on historical dryland communities; aerial photography analysis has indicated forest change over time; high-resolution ecosystem mapping has informed natural resource management planning efforts; and near real-time Web-based satellite monitoring has provided land managers an effective tool for evaluating fire danger. Field-based methods address the potential for restoring native species to alter ecosystem structure to reduce fuel loads and fire danger, the major barriers to restoration across remnant native community types, and to test the effectiveness of a firebreak design that incorporates traditional fuel-breaks grading into greenstrips planted with fire-resistant native species.

Results from this project will benefit the military mission in the Pacific region by increasing capacity and knowledge to restore native forests, reduce wildfire, and enhance habitat for threatened and endangered species.