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Landscape ecology

Science Spotlights

Young trees act as ladder fuel when they grow under large trees on Back Hills Experimental Forest Service.
Scientists across four experimental forests (Preist River, Black Hills, Boise Basin, and Deception Creek) worked to provide a suite of ecosystem services from removing fuels to implementing new strategies. Treatment goals were to increase the diversity of forest conditions across the landscapes and provide for a variety of ecosystem service, such as wildlife habitat, wild berries, wood for construction, and hunting opportunities.  
View of a wildfire east side of Reef Rock on Mica Mountain in the Saguaro Wilderness.
As managed wildfires become the primary tool for restoring forest in the southwestern U.S., much can be learned from the managers and the wilderness landscapes where this has been the norm since the early 1970s. This study summarizes the effects of fire managment practices on key resources, documents common challenges in implementing these practices, and provide lessons for how to address them.
Lynx kitten from a female in spruce-beetle kill
Spruce-bark beetles impacted about 480,000 acres of spruce-fir forests in southern Colorado and are spreading at the rate of 100,000 acres annually.  A central question is how to salvage for timber production insect-impacted forests in ways consistent with the management and conservation of Canada lynx, a federally-listed species.
A fire-adapted ecosystem becomes densely populated and overcrowded in the absence of periodic fire. Photo by: Andrew Larson, University of Montana
The natural role of fire has been disrupted in many regions of the western United States due to the influence of human activities, which have the potential to both exclude or promote fire, resulting in a “fire deficit” or “fire surplus”, respectively. Consequently, land managers need to better understand current departures from natural levels of fire activity, especially given the desire to maintain and restore resilient landscapes. 
View of active fire burning surface fuels in a prescribed burn block at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida on February 6, 2011. The overstory is dominated by fire-dependent longleaf pine (photo credit: Andrew T. Hudak).
Build-up of woody and herbaceous fuels increases the risk of hazardous wildfires. Using airborne light detection and ranging (LiDAR) scientists are examining fuel build up between wildfires to examine the relationship between surface fuels and fire energy. By integrating the repeated measures of heat flux imaged over the whole duration of a fire, the total energy released was mapped across an entire burn area. Airborne remote sensing provides...
Reseracher holds Greater Sage-Grouse while radio-tagging it
USDA Forest Service (FS) has been a leader for several decades in developing science and applications to support conservation and restoration of sagebrush ecosystems and sage-grouse populations. This spotlight describes an assessment that explains how and why understanding and supporting FS science is crucial for future management of sagebrush ecosystems.
Cover of Exotic Brome-Grasses in Arid and Semiarid Ecosystems of the Western US – Causes, Consequences, and Management Implications
Invasive annual brome grasses are resulting in altered fire regimes and conversion of native arid and semi-arid ecosystems in the western United States to annual grass dominance. The problem is particularly acute in sagebrush shrublands where cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) has resulted in annual grass fire cycles that are placing numerous native species such as greater sage-grouse at risk and threating ecosystem services such as livestock forage,...
Image 1. Mountain pine beetle-caused whitebark pine mortality near Black Butte, MT. BJ Bentz photo.
Future forests are being shaped by a changing climate. In addition to the direct effects on trees, climate change is influencing bark beetle disturbance events. Understanding the influence of future climate on bark beetle population growth and associated tree mortality is imperative for management of future forests.
Fig. 4. Imputations of trees per hectare (a), basal area (b) and dominant tree species (c) from airborne lidar across Eglin AFB, and Plot ID (d) imputed as an ancillary variable (i.e., having no weight in the model). This model used for mapping was based
Forest, fuel, and fire management strategies and decisions applied at the scale of forest stands influence not just the tree overstory but also understory plant composition and structure. Understory plants and forest floor materials constitute the surface fuels burned in prescribed fires. Researchers associated LiDAR data from Eglin Air Force Base in Florida with field plot data and fire management records.
The Cheesman Lake landscape 13 years following the 2002 Hayman Fire. Living trees are apparent only adjacent to Cheesman Lake. Photograph by P.M. Brown.
In 2002, the Hayman Fire burned across the unlogged Cheesman Lake landscape, a 3,400 hectare dry-conifer forest landscape in Colorado that had been the subject of previous fire history and forest structure research. We opportunistically leveraged pre-existing fire history and forest structure to provide insight into whether the Hayman Fire burned more severely than historical ones.

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