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Science Spotlights

Prescribed fire in the Manitou Experimental Forest, Pike National Forest, October 2014. Reintroduction of fire through prescribed or wildland fire use is a vital component of restoration to restore ecological processes. Photo: Steve Alton, USFS
The need to better understand factors controlling fire severity are invoked by concerns about public safety, infrastructure, critical wildlife habitat, watershed health, and successional trajectories. Such concerns are heightened in forests with a legacy of past logging and fire exclusion, where significant shifts in ecosystem composition, structure, and function have triggered fuel conditions at greater risk for high-severity fire.  
Saguaro National Park Thumbnail Image
The purpose of this project was to develop an approach that spatially depicts threats to wilderness character and how they vary across the Saguaro Wilderness. The maps produced through this project depict the Saguaro Wilderness’ current degree of departure or degradation from an “optimal condition” of wilderness character. 
Forest Fire Thumbail
Wildland fire has the potential to influence properties of subsequent fire. Researchers monitored the extent to which a previous wildland fire inhibits new fires from igniting.
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The large amount of media coverage of recent massive wildfires across the world has emphasized the vulnerability of freshwater resources. Extensive hydrogeomorphic effects from a wildfire can impair the availability of watersheds to provide safe drinking water to downstream communities and high-quality water to maintain riverine ecosystem health. In this particular study researchers analyzed global wildfire-water risks.
The frequency of fire in low-elevation coniferous forests in western North America has greatly declined since the late 1800s. In many areas, this has increased tree density, increased the proportion of shade-tolerant species, reduced resource availability, and increased forest susceptibility to forest insect pests and high-severity wildfire. This study investigated how low-intensity fire affects tree defenses and whether fuel treatments impact...
decorative image of native american artifacts
This research looks at opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes. Integrating phenological knowledge into natural resource stewardship is important in making land management decisions. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal change adds a broader ecological knowledge base in the context of changing and vulnerable social and...
Effective conservation and management decisions for habitats require information about the distribution of multiple species but such data is expensive to obtain; this often limits data collection to just a few, high-profile species. Environmental DNA (eDNA) sampling can be more sensitive, and less expensive, than traditional sampling for aquatic species, and a single sample potentially contains DNA from all species present in a waterbody. Cost-...
Scientists, engineers, and economists have joined together to learn more about the link between trade and species spread around the globe. This project is called "The Non-indigenous Species World Risk Assessment and Prediction System." 
High-severity wildfires are increasing and researchers are issuing different findings regarding wildfire impacts on spotted owls (Strix occidentalis), a threatened species that nests in mature, western forests with large trees and high canopy cover. Data from different studies show mixed responses of spotted owls to fire, but suggest that the effects of high-severity wildfires could be significant throughout the range of all three subspecies....
Figure 2. Sampling the mineral soil.
Many U.S. forests contain soils with high rock content, and quantities of stored carbon and nitrogen. There is a need to calculate changes in carbon and nutrient pools in soils, but current sampling methods are not completely reliable in rocky soils. Managers and climate change researchers are using estimates of carbon pools to indicate soil productivity, alteration of biological activity, impacts from fire, or carbon storage potential. 

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