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Fire ecology

Projects

Exploring linkages between live wildland fuels, ignition, combustion and potential fire behavior.
A workshop was hosted by the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed for those interested in wildfires and post-fire ecology and impacts, discussing transmission of key research findings from work done in the High Park Fire on key topics, implications for post fire restoration management decision making and identification of barriers to rehab/restoration action & knowledge gaps. Researchers from Rocky Mountain Research Station, CSU, and other regional institutions presented results from their work since the High Park Fire.
Wildfire has long been an important and complex disturbance agent in forests dominated by ponderosa pine in the western United States. However, many recent fires have burned with increased severity across large, contiguous areas, resulting in vast expanses with no surviving overstory trees. Researchers are looking at regeneration rates inponderosa pine forests after high-severity fires and examining the spatial patterns and environmental conditions in affected areas to help managers anticipate natural recovery and plan for post-fire management activities.
For the past three years, scientists from the RMRS Fire Sciences Lab in Missoula and the Forestry Sciences Lab in Moscow have been researching mastication as a fuel treatment in the Rocky Mountains. Specifically, they have been interested in how the materials age when they are left on the ground to decompose and how that aging affects their flammability.
Many large fires have occurred in recent decades across the western United States and projections predict this trend to continue with increasingly warmer and drier conditions, meaning extensive areas have and will burn severely. Accurate estimates of fuel conditions and vegetation recovery rates of various ecosystems with time since last burn would assist fuel and fire management decisions. Understanding vegetation response trajectories based upon burn severity and other post-burn indicators will increase our ability to effectively prioritize management options and planning to address long-term fuel and fire management objectives.
There is an urgent need to develop adaptive management strategies that foster ecosystem resilience to the impact of climate change and enable forests to adapt to uncertain future conditions. This project utilizes a scientist-land manager partnership to develop, implement, and measure ecological responses in a large-scale replicated study of three adaptive management treatments strategies in the dry mixed conifer forest type.
Restoration projects are being implemented across large scales in fire-frequent forests to simultaneously modify forest structure complexity and reduce potential crown fire hazards. However, there has been little assessment of the ability for these projects to simultaneously meet the objectives of increasing spatial diversity and reducing wildfire hazards.
Climate is a major driver of spatial and temporal patterns in primary productivity. Relating trends in ecosystem productivity to climate across the United States will enhance our understanding of how climate change will influence ecosystem productivity in the future and support climate change adaptation and mitigation activities.
Over the past 20 years, we have been monitoring mortality rates for ponderosa pine trees in the Blue Mountains of northeastern Oregon since we removed a fire-scarred partial cross-section from them. We suggest that sampling live, fire-scarred ponderosa pine trees remains an important and generally non-lethal method of obtaining information about historical fires that can supplement the information obtained from dead fire-scarred trees.
In 2015, analysts with Fire Modeling Institute (FMI) continued to be involved with application of a wildfire risk assessment framework developed largely by RMRS scientists from both the Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program and the Human Dimensions Program. The risk assessment framework is useful for multiple reasons: it provides a means to assess the potential risk posed by wildfire to specific highly valued resources and assets (HVRAs) across large landscapes, and it also provides a scientifically-based foundation for fire managers to think strategically and proactively about how to best manage fire and fuels on their landscapes in a way that integrates with broader land and resource management goals.  

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