US Forest Service Research & Development
Contact Information
  • US Forest Service Research & Development
  • 1400 Independence Ave., SW
  • Washington, D.C. 20250-0003
  • 800-832-1355
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Dave W Peterson

David W. Peterson

Research Forester
1133 N. Western Avenue
United States

Phone: 509-664-1727
Fax: 509-665-8362
Contact David W. Peterson

Current Research

I am currently focused on improving our understanding of how forest and rangeland vegetation responds to wildfire; how trees killed by wildfire decay and contribute to wildlife habitat, coarse woody debris, and fuels; and how post-fire management treatments can best be used to reduce threats (e.g., post-fire flooding and erosion, future high severity wildfires) and promote long-term ecosystem recovery. I am also working to evaluate the effectiveness of common forest restoration treatments (e.g., mechanical thinning and prescribed fire) for increasing resilience to fire and climatic variability and promoting biodiversity in fire-prone forest and savanna ecosystems.

Research Interests

  • Fire, forest, and restoration ecology
  • Climate change
  • Response to, and influence of, forest, savanna, and grassland ecosystems on the frequency and severity of natural fire regimes
  • Response of forest ecosystems to severe fire events
  • Forest management practices that manage potential fire behavior and ecosystem resilience
  • Variability of forest structure, composition, and function across environmental gradients
  • Influence of climatic variability on tree establishment and growth
  • Response of tree growth to climate across species and environmental gradients
  • Application of fire and forest ecology for restoring and maintaining ecosystem structure, function, and biodiversity in fire-prone forests and savannas

Past Research

My past work has included studies of tree growth responses to climatic variability using tree-ring analysis, with a particular emphasis on understanding the dominant climate-related stressors that limit growth of subalpine conifers, and how those dominant stressors differ among species, among geographic regions, and across environmental gradients. I have also studied the long-term effects of different prescribed fire frequencies on overstory structure, understory plant communities, and nitrogen availability in oak savannas and woodlands in Minnesota.

Why This Research is Important

In North America and many other parts of the world, humans have modified natural fire regimes through land use changes, landscape modifications, and active fire suppression, leading to significant changes in the structure, composition, and functioning of fire-prone forest, savanna, and grassland ecosystems. These altered ecosystems are often unsustainable and are now experiencing uncharacteristically severe wildfires that not only produce threats to human health and property (e.g., direct wildfire effects, post-fire flooding and erosion, loss of ecosystem services), but may also produce dramatic and persistent changes in the ecosystems (e.g., conversion of forests to shrubland or grassland). Climate change may enhance these problems by promoting longer fire seasons and more extreme fire weather. Forest managers are increasingly focusing their efforts on forest restoration, seeking to increase forest resilience to disturbances and climate change, promote and maintain biodiversity, and improve the capacity of ecosystems to adapt to change. My work contributes to these efforts by providing basic scientific knowledge about how ecosystems function and respond to disturbances and by assessing the effectiveness and ecological impacts of some of the management treatments used to achieve management objectives.


  • University of Minnesota, Ph.D. Forestry (Forest Ecology) 1998
  • University of Washington, M.S. Forestry (Forest Ecology) 1993
  • Pacific Lutheran University, B.A. Mathematics and Computer Science 1983

Professional Experience

  • Research Forester, USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Wenatchee Forestry Sciences Laboratory
    2002 - Current
  • Research Associate, University of Washington, Dept. of Civil and Environmental Engineering
    2000 - 2002
  • Lecturer, California Polytechnic State University, Natural Resources Management Dept.
    2000 - 2000
  • Research Associate, University of Washington, College of Forest Resources
    1998 - 2000

Professional Organizations

  • Association of Fire Ecology, Member (2004 - Current)
  • Tree-Ring Society, Member (2003 - Current)
  • Ecological Society of America, Member (1996 - Current)
  • Northwest Scientific Association, Member (2003 - 2008)
  • Northwest Scientific Association, Board Member (2003 - 2006)

Featured Publications & Products


Research Highlights


Postfire Logging Reduces Future Surface Woody Fuels in Dry Coniferous Forests

Severe wildfires create pulses of dead trees that influence future fuel loads, fire behavior, and fire effects as they decay and deposit surface ...


Pros and Cons of Fuel Treatments Versus Periodic Wildfire Determined

Hazardous fuel treatments in dry Western forests generally reduce carbon storage over time compared to periodic wildfires, but the treatments en ...


Strategically-placed Fuel Treatments Contributes to Resilient Landscapes

The 2014 Carlton Complex in north-central Washington was a “megafire.” It burned 167,000 acres within 24 hours, driven by strong warm winds ...


Understanding Vegetation Vulnerability to Climate Change

This synthesis paper reviews potential climate change impacts on Pacific Northwest vegetation and provides a scientific basis for developing vul ...


Last updated on : 04/09/2021