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Landscape ecology


There is widespread interest in understanding the effectiveness of fuel treatments in mitigating the trajectory of wildfire suppression costs and how their effectiveness and longevity can be extended over large areas and landscapes. To date, there have been several studies that used a modeling approach to evaluate fuel treatment effectiveness at the landscape scale. However, empirical studies at this scale are rare because landscape-scale fuel treatment strategies have not been fully implemented or wildfires have not burned through implemented landscape fuel treatments. A thorough evaluation of what is currently available in the literature and lessons learned from forest and rangeland managers has not yet been conducted.
Forbs are an integral component of terrestrial ecosystems and critical to pollinator health. However, we know very little about the biology of native forbs. Such knowledge is a prerequisite to developing restoration programs that use diverse forb species in restoration seeding.
Using a newly developed decision support tool, RMRS scientist Megan Friggens and collaborators have conducted case study assessments in National Forests in the SW. Working closely with National Forest staff, they assessed the vulnerability of several landscapes to the interactive effect of changing fire and climate regimes. During interactive assessment sessions, they also quantified the potential effectiveness of management strategies for reducing landscape vulnerability.
The concepts of ecological resilience and resistance to invasive annual grasses have been used to develop an understanding of sagebrush ecosystem response to disturbances like wildfire and management actions to reduce fuels and restore native ecosystems. A multi-scale framework that uses these concepts to prioritize areas for conservation and restoration at landscape scales and to determine effective management strategies at local scales has been developed by Chambers and her colleagues. Regional SageSTEP (Sagebrush Treatment Evaluation Project) data coupled with west-wide AIM (Assessment, Inventory and Monitoring) data provide a unique opportunity to refine the predictors of resilience and resistance and extend the existing multi-scale framework effort.
The researchers are completing a series of riparian and groundwater-dependent ecosystem assessments for National Forests in the USFS Intermountain Region. Each assessment summarizes drivers, stressors, and current condition of these systems in relation to the natural range of variation within each forest. The reports directly inform the assessment phase of forest plan revision and continue to be produced on a schedule in line with the Region’s forest planning process.
Located on the Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest, this project uses a common garden approach to determine which plant species are best suited for supporting pollinator communities and are most appropriate for restoration activities. Findings from the study will be used to 1) improve pollinator habitat, 2) increase seed stocks of native flowering species for use in restoration, 3) inform U.S. seed zone guidelines and 4) help predict plant-pollinator response to climate change. This carries on a long tradition at the Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest of using common gardens in botanical research. As far back as the 1920s and 30s common gardens were used to study evapotranspiration rates of native herbaceous and shrub species as well as evaluate the potential use of certain species for erosion control. Some of these the same gardens are now being restored nearly a century later for use in this study.
This project incorporates historical data collected at the Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest nearly 100 years ago to determine how plant communities have changed over that period of time.
The Sierra Ancha Experimental Forest (SAEF) Vegetation Mapping Project uses unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to create highly detailed vegetation maps using Structure From Motion technology.  These maps are then used to overlay historical vegetation maps made nearly 100 years ago to determine how vegetation has changed over the last century.
The research objective is to develop western white pine management strategies focused on regeneration establishment and young forest development by 1) developing canopy opening size thresholds where western white pine can establish and grow, 2) developing alternative tending methods to enable managers to continue to manage western white pine plantations, 3) evaluating plantation resilience to wildfire, and 4) evaluating understory plant diversity under 30-year or older western white pine plantations.  
Through fire management and riparian ecosystem restoration RMRS researchers Terrie Jain, Kate Dwire, and Travis Warziniack are partnering with the University of Idaho and the Idaho City Ranger District to develop, implement, and evaluate different adaptive management strategies to improve the fire resiliency of the Boise National Forest.