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After Fire: Landscape toolkit for the Southwest

Date: July 16, 2019

A toolkit to help resource managers, communities, and private landowners plan for and mitigate post-fire flooding and erosion.


A backhoe partially buried by a debris flow after the Schultz fire on the Coconino National Forest in Arizona.
A backhoe partially buried by a debris flow after the Schultz fire on the Coconino National Forest in Arizona. Credit goes to: Anna Jaramillio-Scarborough

Wildfires, an important natural disturbance in southwestern ecosystems, can present challenges to resource managers, communities, and private landowners when they burn areas subject to post-fire flooding and erosion. It is important for these groups to respond rapidly to threats from post-fire events to reduce impacts and loss. Many government agencies and research institutions have developed science and management tools for estimating post-fire effects and mitigating risks in burned landscapes. Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams work on lands managed by the federal government to apply these tools to assess watershed conditions, evaluate risks, and identify appropriate treatments. However, after wildfire, many non-federal landowners and managers also need to manage and reduce risk on their lands.

In this project, we assessed the utility of currently available tools and resources for application on non-federal lands and by non-federal user groups. Tools used by federal teams were identified through literature review, discussion with BAER team members, contacting experts in the field, and searches of websites dedicated to BAER and other post-fire tools.

Treated hillslopes following the Little Bear Fire on the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico
Treated hillslopes following the Little Bear Fire on the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico. Credit goes to: Anna Jaramillio-Scarborough

We evaluated three critical factors that relate to the accessibility of each tool: required inputs, required equipment, and availability of guidance. Each of these factors was scored according to how accessible they made the tool. To estimate the overall ease of use, we summed the scores for the three metrics. Tools that scored higher were considered easier to use, and those with low scores were considered less accessible. Additionally, we collected information on four supplemental characteristics: geographic scope, landscape scale at which the tool operates, whether tools use curve numbers, and whether the tool is capable of estimating treatment effects. These characteristics do not necessarily influence accessibility, but are important information to be considered when selecting appropriate tools.

  • Our study focused on 22 tools used to assess potential risks after fire. Of these, five are used to collect information in the field on the condition of burned landscapes. Fifteen tools model erosion, peak flow, runoff, or a combination of these outputs. A single tool predicts debris flow hazard and one tool is a searchable database. There is a wide range in the usability of tools for evaluating burned landscapes and estimating post-fire effects on non-federal lands. Several tools that are used by federal teams to assess post-fire conditions and risk have utility for non-federal users.
  • Resource managers examine post-fire effects within a stream channel after the Little Bear Fire on the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico
    Resource managers examine post-fire effects within a stream channel after the Little Bear Fire on the Lincoln National Forest, New Mexico. Credit goes to: Anna Jaramillio-Scarborough
    In addition to ease-of-use, other factors like output type, application, and scope have relevance for how useful tools may be for non-federal users. For example, some tools have very limited geographic areas where they can be applied.
  • There remains a need for more user-friendly tools, particularly field measurement techniques and runoff models. The Soil Burn Severity Datasheet provides an excellent example of a tool that is easy to use and is capable of providing useful information for planning in a short time period. It demonstrates several characteristics that would be advantageous in the development of new assessment tools: users choose among a selection of responses rather than generating specific measurements; it is in a format that can easily be printed and brought to the field; it relies on simple methods to collect and interpret inputs or observations of post-fire environments; and it provides step-by-step instructions with photo examples.

Our online toolkit (https://postfiresw.info/) provides information on several post-fire resources including guidance for risk assessment and treatment selection, analysis tools, and web resources to increase the capacity of individuals, communities, private landowners, and other resource managers to learn about, plan for, and implement post-fire management actions to reduce risks associated with erosion and flooding.

Ven diagram. Output types of 22 tools used by Burned Area Emergency Response Teams to mitigate risk on federally managed lands.
Output types of 22 tools used by Burned Area Emergency Response Teams to mitigate risk on federally managed lands.

Click here (or the screenshot below) to download a presentation given by Megan Friggens and Katelyn Driscoll:



Principal Investigators: 
Forest Service Partners: 
Deborah Finch, Co-investigator, Content Contributor
Dan Neary, Co-investigator, Content Contributor
Pete Robichaud, Co-investigator, Content Contributor
Max Smith, Co-investigator, Content Contributor
Anna Jaramillo-Scarborough, USFS Southwestern Region
External Partners: 
Anne Bradley, The Nature Conservancy
Emile Elias, USDA SW Climate Hub
Ericha Courtright, New Mexico State University
Gregg Garfin, University of Arizona
Sara LeRoy University of Arizona