RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program RMRS Air, Water, & Aquatic Environments Science Program

US Forest Service Research and Development

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Rocky Mountain Research Station
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 Fire and Aquatic Ecosystems Workshop
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Rocky Mountain Research Station Home > Science Program Areas > Air, Water and Aquatics > Fire and Aquatic Ecosystems Workshop


Fire and Aquatic Ecosystems Workshop

Fire and Aquatic Ecosystems Logo

Fire & Aquatic Ecosystems II

March 12, 2009

Owyhee Plaza Hotel, Boise, Idaho


workshop Introduction

In the first decade of the 21st century wildland fire issues dominate the management of many public lands in the West.  It seems new evidence emerges on a daily basis suggesting the challenges posed by wildland fire are likely to be compounded by the effects of climate change.  Wildland fire burns vegetation and alters the landscape but aquatic systems may also be profoundly affected by the direct and indirect effects of fire.  The interaction of wildland fire and aquatic systems was the subject of the first Fire and Aquatic Ecosystems Workshop in 2002.  There is a need for an updated review and synthesis of how fire affects aquatic ecosystems, how it interacts with land, fuel, and fire management decisions, and how a changing climate alters the template on which these interactions occur and decisions are made.    


The purpose of this workshop is to discuss how to bring the available science into everyday use for decision making.  To do this, we will step past the technical details and guidelines into a broader discussion of the interdisciplinary setting in which decisions of this nature must be made.  We will discuss how the science can best be synthesized and packaged to support policy updates, to feed decision tools, and efficiently inform discussions with stakeholders.  Some presentation is needed to frame the issues, but much of the workshop is devoted to discussion and interaction to promote conversations between decision makers and scientists.


A copy of the funded project proposal can be viewed here.


Who Should Attend?

Our primary audience is line officers and their support staff who rely on scientific information to make the best decisions when it comes to managing wildland fire and natural resources situated within areas where wildland fire hazards are great.  Recent investigations of wildland fire and related processes suggest fundamental changes to the way wildland fire is managed in western forests could be beneficial to both the resource and stakeholders.  Therefore, officers responsible for crafting policy at the agency level will be valuable participants. 



workshop Topics and Contacts

For more information on the project contact Charlie Luce


Terrestrial vegetation and fire regimes 

This section is intended to showcase the state of the science with respect to the relationship between terrestrial vegetation, fire behavior, and fire regimes.  Topics to be covered in this section include climate change and regional fire regimes; climate, weather, and eco-hydrology as local controls on forest vegetation; fuels, and wildfire; alternatives for fire and fuels management; using remotely sensed data to assess post-fire ecological effects; and predicting fire behavior and active fire characteristics.

Contact: Penny Morgan, pmorgan [at] uidaho.edu, 208.885.7507

Riparian systems 

This set of review papers will summarize existing knowledge regarding the influence of wildfire on riparian characteristics and functions over time, including fire history of riparian forests and post-fire response of native and invasive species.  We will focus on riparian conditions that are critical for aquatic habitat and reflect post-fire hydrologic, geomorphic and ecological processes.  Since fire-related management of aquatic resources frequently involves treatment of riparian areas, we will also address current management challenges, including restoration, fuel reduction, and invasive species control in dynamic streamside environments.

Contact: Kate Dwire, kadwire [at] fs.fed.us, 970.498.1016


Stream flows and stream temperature form important controls on the distribution of aquatic species, and fire and climate change both have strong effects on processes governing them.  While changes caused by fire can be dramatic and acute, they commonly have a limited spatial scale and finite duration.  In contrast the effects of climate change are probabilistic in nature and somewhat more subtle, but the probabilities are increasing over time and effects may be coherent over scales of hundreds of miles.  In effect climate change is gradually resetting the context in which impacts to aquatic communities must be evaluated, and the interaction of the two will ultimately provide the most challenging situation for many aquatic communities.  Papers in this section will discuss processes affecting hydrologic and stream temperature changes and their relevance to aquatic ecosystems and decisions affecting them.

Contact: Charlie Luce, cluce [at] fs.fed.us, 208.373.4382



Wildland fire has profound effects on transport of sediment and organic material from terrestrial to aquatic systems and then downstream.  Topics to be covered in this section include wildfire and the supply of sediment and wood to stream channels; sediment and wood routing; channel evolution; debris flow scaling and landslides; effects of fire severity on landslide occurrence; and sediment supply, routing and fundamental differences between management and wildfire.

Contact: John Buffington, jbuffington [at] fs.fed.us, 208.373.4384


Aquatic ecology 

Advances in analytical methods are facilitating evermore detailed studies of fire effects on microbial and macroinvertebrate communities in streams. Topics to be covered in this section include fire effects on aquatic invertebrates; carbon source and linked food webs; fire and nutrient cycling/retention; and fire and lake limnology.

Contact: Claire McGrath, ccmcgrath [at] fs.fed.us, 208.373.4380

Fishes and amphibians

This section will provide an overview of the current knowledge regarding response of fish and amphibian populations to wildfire and subsequent hydrologic disturbance and habitat changes.  We will focus on biological adaptations and the ecological and watershed characteristics that contribute to the resilience and vulnerability of distinct populations.  A synthesis will consider both the conflict and opportunities for more integrated solutions in terrestrial and aquatic management.

Contact: Bruce Rieman, brieman [at] fs.fed.us

Fuels management

Fuels management on public lands involves pre-fire treatments, direct responses to wildland fire, and post-fire treatments or rehabilitation.  At each stage fire management activities are likely to affect aquatic ecosystems with outcomes somewhere along a continuum from detrimental to benign.  A broad-scale, integrated approach to identifying hazards and risks from wildland fire could enable land managers to allocate precious resources in a manner most likely to produce resilient forests, capable of absorbing the effects of wildland fire without long-term negative impacts to resources.  While “watch it burn” is not the answer for all forests, it is likely ample opportunity exists to use wildland fire.  This section will present alternatives to containment and suppression-based forest management that allow for increased reliance on wildland fire. 

Contact: Matt Dare, mdare [at] fs.fed.us, 208.373.4371

Climate change

Ongoing and projected environmental trends associated with a warming climate are changing the context within which wildfire affects aquatic ecosystems. Many disturbances associated with wildfire will be enhanced by climate shifts, climate will impose its own set of effects, and interactions between these factors will occur. This section attempts to synthesize these factors and the implications for aquatic ecosystems.

Contact: Dan Isaak, disaak [at] fs.fed.us, 208.373.4385



Each of the previous sections will feature topical articles and a comprehensive synthesis article describing the state of science in the discipline.  Ultimately, this information will be consolidated into a larger synthesis on the state of our knowledge pertaining to fire and aquatic ecosystems.  During the workshop we will discuss ways to synthesize and package and disseminate the material in format useful to line officers and their staff.  Our goal is to package this information using the Internet as our primary method for delivery.


workshop Agenda

New Agenda 02/25/2009

PDF Agenda to print


Agenda Item - March 12

7:45 – 8:40am

Charlie Luce, Research Hydrologist

Welcome/Workshop Overview/Intros


Resolutions, Inc.

Sherry Gorrell

Bob Rainville


Objective: Share research on fire effects on aquatic ecosystems

4 Topics: 15 min each includes Q&A

1.    Terrestrial Vegetation and Fire Regimes

2.    Riparian Systems

3.    Hydrology

4.    Geomorphology




4 Topics: 15 min each includes Q&A

5.    Aquatic Ecology

6.    Fishes and Amphibians

7.    Fuels Management

8.    Climate Change



Common Thread of all Topics


Interactive Breakouts

4 Interdisciplinary Teams

Each Team to Include:

*USFS Line Officers

*USFS and non-USFS FAETeam Members

*USFS Resource Specialists

*Other NGO Representatives


1.    Obtain feedback from managers and representatives of interested organizations regarding each topic

2.    Develop communication strategy to inform fire management




LUNCH – on your own 


Teams Continue/Complete Projects – Prepare to Present


Teams Present to other Teams


Select Preferred Communication Strategies


NEXT STEPS for FAETeam on Friday? 


THANK YOU for Your Excellent Participation!


Rocky Mountain Research Station - Air, Water and Aquatic Environments Sciences Program
Last Modified:  Thursday, 08 April 2021 at 18:28:16 CDT

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