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Individual Highlight

Wildland Fire Deficit and Surplus in the Western U.S.

Photo of Dense understory caption: A fire-adapted ecosystem becomes densely populated and overcrowded in the absence of periodic fire. Andrew Larson, University of Montana.Dense understory caption: A fire-adapted ecosystem becomes densely populated and overcrowded in the absence of periodic fire. Andrew Larson, University of Montana.Snapshot : Wildland fire is an important disturbance agent in the western U.S. and globally; however, the natural role of fire has been disrupted in many regions due to the influence of human activities, which have the potential to either exclude or promote fire, resulting in a “fire deficit” or “fire surplus,” respectively. In order to restore and maintain resilient and healthy ecosystems, land managers need better information on what level of fire is appropriate for any given region, and a better understanding of current departures from natural levels of fire activity.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Parks, Sean A.  
Research Location : Western United States
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1107

Summary

Scientists used fire and climate data from protected areas and other areas with low human influence to build a model of expected fire activity. These areas of low human impact provided a natural benchmark in which fire activity and climate are relatively tightly linked. They were then able to compare expected to observed fire activity and quantify the amount of fire deficit and surplus for different regions of the western U.S. from 1984-2012. Research results indicate that many forested areas in the western U.S. experienced a fire deficit from 1984-2012, likely due to fire exclusion by human activities. They also found that large expanses of non-forested regions experienced a fire surplus, presumably due to introduced annual grasses and the prevalence of human-caused ignitions. Protected areas and other areas with low human impact served as a natural benchmark, and as such, are an invaluable data source for assessing alterations to fire regimes across multiple ecosystem types.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • John Abatzoglou, University of Idaho
  • Marc Parisien, Natural Resources Canada
  • Solomon Dobrowski, University of Montana

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