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Wildland Fire and Fuels

Science Spotlights

Big sage mountain brush
An unprecedented conservation effort is underway across 11 Western states to address threats to sagebrush ecosystems and the many species that depend on them. Today, the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Interior released the Science Framework for Conservation and Restoration of the Sagebrush Biome (Part 2). The Science Framework provides a transparent, ecologically responsible approach for making policy and management decisions...
Trailing edge forest Southern Rockies ecoregion
Forests are an incredibly important resource across the globe, yet they are threatened by climate change through stressors such as drought, insect outbreaks, and wildfire. Trailing edge forests—those areas expected to experience range contractions under a changing climate—are of concern because of the potential for abrupt conversion to non-forest. However, broad-scale forest die-off and range contraction in trailing edge forests are unlikely to...
Photo of a forest fire
The 20th Century was a period of enormous change for western forests. Fire used to maintain distinct forest vegetation communities – pine, dry mixed-conifer, mesic mixed-conifer, and spruce-fir – in close proximity to one another along steep vertical gradients in the topographically diverse forests of the American Southwest. How did these forests change in response to fire exclusion? In what ways and how rapidly? What are the consequences of...
Fire Danger Rating System
The National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS) is a system that allows fire managers to estimate today's or tomorrow's fire danger for a given area. In 2014, RMRS fire danger rating system developers sought and gained approval to update the U.S. National Fire Danger Rating System (NFDRS).
Wildfire burn near a housing development
Wildfires are intensifying due to climate change, and more people are living in regions prone to fire. Understanding how individuals threatened by a wildfire make evacuation decisions – especially those who do not leave promptly – is necessary in order to foster public safety. Homeowners in three communities that have experienced wildfires in the United States were surveyed regarding their responses to evacuation requests.
Photo of a forest fire
The number and size of large wildfires have increased dramatically in the western United States during the past three decades. Prior understanding was that the increase in fires was mainly attributable to warming temperatures and earlier snowmelt. In this study, a research team contrasted the three main hypothesized climatic drivers of recent increases in western US wildfire activity: decreased snowpack, increased temperature, and decreased...
A prescribed fire burning through Pinus monophylla and Juniperus osteosperma in the Great Basin Piñon-Juniper Woodland of the Southern Intermountain geographic region. (Photo by Jeanne Chambers, RMRS.)
Changes in fire patterns for piñon and juniper vegetation in the western United States were analyzed over a 30-year period. This is the first evaluation of its type.
Picture shows high-severity (stand-replacing) fire effects on the 2002 Hayman Fire, Colorado. Photo credit: NIFC.
Dry conifer forests in the Western United States historically had low impact surface fires approximately every five to 30 years. Due to more than 100 years of successful fire exclusion, however, many of these forests are now denser, and therefore have a greater probability of experiencing intense fires that burn entire stands and convert forests to non-forest landscapes. What environmental conditions are necessary to promote low-severity fire in...
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.  
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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