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Science Spotlights

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...
As prescribed fires become more popular among land managers, there's an increasing need to analyze the relationship between fire and soil. As wildfires and prescribed fires burn through forests, they consequentially alter the soil compositions. RMRS scientists have developed a new model to better simulate soil heating and evaporation rates.
Greater sage-grouse with solar-powered PTT-100 global positioning system transmitter in a study of movement patterns in Wyoming. Photo by Brian Dickerson, USDA FS
Researchers gather baseline information on greater sage-grouse prior to the construction of a wind energy project consisting of 1,000 turbines in Carbon County, Wyoming. These studies are being designed as a "before-after-control-impact" setup where researchers can use baseline data and compare it to data gathered after an impact to determine the effects on a given population.
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.
Herbicide treatment targeting the invasive plant, spotted knapweed, in Montana.
A rapidly emerging problem is that of secondary invasion – an increase in non-target exotics following efforts to suppress targeted invasive plants. Researchers conducted a global literature review and meta-analysis directed at quantifying the magnitude of secondary invasion effects and identifying possible causes in order to improve management outcomes. 
Soil amendment treatments (wood chips, biochar, and biosolids) alone or in combinations applied to an abandoned mine site near Sumpter, OR.
Drought can have severe impacts on rangeland ecosystems in North America. There is a critical need to understand how drought affects rangelands because drought severity and drought-associated disturbances are expected to increase with climatic change. Results from this study will be used to improve predictive forecasts of Great Plains wildfires, which are prone to uncertainies related to current climate projections and a paucity of information...
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.
Image 1. A live Great Basin bristlecone pine surrounded by mountain pine beetle-killed limber pines near Mount Moriah, Nevada.  BJ Bentz photo.
Climate change is altering species geographic ranges, including the mountain pine beetle which is currently found further north than any other time in recorded history. Warming temperatures have caused millions of acres of mountain pine beetle-caused tree mortality across western North America, including in high elevation pine ecosystems. Extensive tree mortality in high-elevation pines is troubling, as they are foundational species playing...
Proper management of naturally forested landscapes requires an understanding of the temporal and spatial patterns in which key disturbance processes are manifest and their effects on species composition and structure. Linked fire and forest histories constructed from tree-ring evidence provide valuable information about drivers of fire occurrence and about the variability and interactions of fire regimes and vegetation on heterogeneous...