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Fire ecology

Projects

The Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) provides scientific information for resource management, restoration, rehabilitation, and fire management. FEIS continues to improve its service to managers by providing new and updated products and a new user interface is currently under development.
Rocky Mountain Research Station scientists and collaborators are working to determine how bark beetle attacks change the moisture and chemistry of several tree species and how these changes affect flammability. Findings will allow us to improve fire behavior and risk models to better predict and manage wildfires and protect property and human life. 
Multi-century fire and forest histories are reconstructed using dendrochronological techniques to assess past variation in fire regimes at various scales of time and space.
Variation in composition, structure,  recruitment history, and genetic heterozygosity are being assessed for Great Basin bristlecone pine stands across the full geographic and ecological range of distribution.
The cycle of annual weed invasion and wildfire has altered large expanses of western shrublands, disrupted ecosystem functioning, and increased wildfire size, intensity, and frequency. This research addresses reestablishment of native vegetation after fires on arid lands.
Increasing use of prescribed fire by land managers and increasing likelihood of wildfires due to climate change creates a need to improve tools modelling extreme heating of soils during fires. Rocky Mountain Research scientist William Massman addressed this issue by developing and testing of a novel numerical model of soil evaporation and transport of heat, soil moisture, and water vapor under extreme conditions produced by wildfires.
Many of today’s fires in ponderosa pine dominated forests are burning more severely than historical ones, generating concern that understory plant communities will not recover without intervention.  There are also concerns that fires will facilitate the establishment and spread of non-native species.  In 2002, Colorado’s Hayman Fire burned pre-existing understory vegetation plots and provided an opportunity to address these concerns. 
Innovative quantitative approaches have been developed for evaluating wildfire and prescribed fire effects on wildlife communities in several western North American national forests.
Numerous factors influence the establishment and growth of tree seedlings after high-severity wildfires. Understanding spatial patterns and environmental conditions influencing ponderosa pine and aspen regeneration post-wildfire can help managers monitor natural recovery.
This project explored fire behavior attributes under three levels of tree mortality in a southwestern U.S. forest dominated by ponderosa pine at three stages: pre-outbreak (“green stage”), immediately post-mortality when dead needles remain on trees (“red stage”), and when needles drop to the ground (“gray stage”).

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