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Fire ecology

Projects

Effective and efficient risk based management requires integrated knowledge, systems and planning tools that explore the interaction of the full range of land and fire management activities. The Wildfire Risk Management Team is working with managers to develop and demonstrate the power of integrating fire-risk science across the full range of fire management activities from local to national scales. Improved linkages between landscape fire potential and land management objectives will have profound effects on the efficiency of the full range of fire management activities. 
How is drought affecting the forests and rangelands of the United States? Dr. Karin L. Riley, Research Ecologist with the Human Dimensions program of the USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, participated in a recent effort to synthesize the current science on this topic, along with 76 other scientists from federal land management agencies, universities, and other research institutions.
The Wildfire Risk Management Team is an interdisciplinary team that explores wildfire management through the lenses of risk analysis, economics, decision science, and landscape ecology to improve the scientific basis for the full range of wildfire management decisions. Primary research topics include integrated spatial risk assessment modeling and planning, econometric modeling of fire management expenditures, effectiveness of suppression resource utilization, organizational structure and managerial incentive systems, and performance measurement.
The Cascabel watershed study was initiated in 1999 by Rocky Mountain Research Station Scientists as part of the Southwestern Borderlands Ecosystem Management Project. The study is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project to determine the effects of cool season and warm season prescribed burning on an oak-savanna ecosystem common to the southwestern United States and northern Mexico.
Forests in the western United States are more dense and have more down fuels now than under historic conditions, mostly due to anthropogenic influences such as grazing and fire-suppression. Managers have recognized this problem and have acted to reduce stem density and fuels by thinning, burning, and/or fuel treatments. This Fire and Fire-Surrogate (FFS) study evaluates prescribed fire, thinning, and various mechanical treatment methods for treating, removing, or using woody biomass.
Snags (standing dead trees) and logs are important components of forest landscapes. RMRS scientists established a series of fixed plots in 1997 for monitoring snag populations. This research has direct ramifications for 11 national forests throughout the Southwestern Region, as well as for our overall understanding of the ecology of coarse woody debris and effects of climate change on forest structure and composition.
A number of native bark beetles can cause tree mortality in western forests and urban environments. These insects have co-evolved over thousands of years with their host trees and are an integral part of forest ecosystems. Researchers are conducting numerous studies to better understand beetle’s ecological role in shaping forest composition and structure.
The development of ecological restoration treatment prescriptions based on historical forest structure is needed to inform management activities within the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration (CFLR) and other restoration efforts. Our goal is to provide managers with locally derived, historically realistic, and climatically sustainable targets for desired future stand and landscape conditions for the Colorado Front Range and South Dakota Black Hills. 
We are integrating multiple datasets, statistical modeling tools, and simulation approaches to quantify habitat and predict population responses by woodpecker and other wildlife species of conservation concern to natural disturbance (wildfire, bark beetle outbreaks) and forest management activities to inform adaptive management of dry conifer forests.
The Colorado Plateau and Southern Great Plains continue to experience frequent droughts and high temperatures. On-going research examines whether even drought tolerant junipers may succumb to increased aridity and begin dying at increased rates, which could significantly alter fire regimes.

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