The Rim Fire one year later: a natural experiment in fire ecology and management
Aug05

The Rim Fire one year later: a natural experiment in fire ecology and management

The enormous conflagration known as the Rim Fire was in full fury, raging swiftly from crown to crown among mature trees, when it entered the backcountry of Yosemite National Park in California’s Sierra Nevada in late August 2013. But inside the park, the battle began to turn, enacting a case study in the way management decisions and drought can combine to fuel large, severe fires.

Read More
The control of nature: stewardship of fire ecology by native Californian cultures
Jul29

The control of nature: stewardship of fire ecology by native Californian cultures

Before the colonial era, 100,000s of people lived on the land now called California, and many of their cultures manipulated fire to control the availability of plants they used for food, fuel, tools, and ritual. Contemporary tribes continue to use fire to maintain desired habitat and natural resources.

Read More

ESA Policy News: April 9

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by Science Policy Analyst Terence Houston.  Read the full Policy News here. HOUSE: GOP BUDGET SETS FURTHER DISCRETIONARY SPENDING CAPS On March 29, the U.S. House of Representatives passed House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget resolution for Fiscal Year (FY) 2013. The bill passed by a vote of 228-191 with 10 Republicans joining all Democrats in voting against the bill. The non-binding resolution sets discretionary spending at $1.028 trillion, $19 billion below the $1.047 trillion agreed upon during the compromise enacted under the Budget Control Act (P.L. 112-25). The budget resolution typically serves as a maximum funding ceiling for congressional appropriators to work from as House and Senate appropriation bills are drafted and marked-up in the spring and summer. Under the House-passed resolution, H. Con. Res. 112, environmental spending, including the Environmental Protection Agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and other agencies, would take a $4.1 billion hit, sinking to budget authority levels not seen since 2001. The funding cut is nearly double the $2.3 billion reduction proposed by President Obama’s FY 2013 budget request. At the same time, the House budget bill would seek to increase revenue by expanding oil and gas drilling. The 10 Republicans voting against the budget were Reps. Justin Amash (MI), Joe Barton (TX), John Duncan (TN), Chris Gibson (NY), Tim Huelskamp (KS), Walter Jones (NC), David McKinley (WV), Todd Platts (PA), Denny Rehberg (MT) and Ed Whitfield (KY). The rationale for the opposition varied. Some members supported a more far-reaching resolution offered by the far-right conservative Republican Study Committee that claims it would balance the budget in five years through more severe cuts. Other Republicans objected to the proposed changes to Medicare. For additional information on Chairman Ryan’s budget, see the March 23 edition of ESA Policy News. HOUSE: SCIENCE COMMITTEE REVIEWS NOAA WEATHER FORECASTING SYSTEMS On March 28, the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy and Environment convened to examine the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) weather forecasting methods. The hearing focused on the broad range of technologies available to gather weather and climate data and whether those technologies could improve weather forecasting methods. In addition to representation from NOAA, the committee heard from several witnesses from the private sector who discussed how they could provide the same weather collection data for less money. Committee Republicans were critical of NOAA for allocating 40 percent of its proposed $5.1 billion Fiscal Year 2013 budget towards its two satellite programs, the Joint Polar Satellite System (JPSS) and the Geostationary Operational Environmental Satellite R-Series (GOES-R), at the expense of...

Read More

ESA Policy News: March 1

Here are some highlights from the latest ESA Policy News by ESA’s Science Policy Analyst, Piper Corp. Read the full Policy News at http://www.esa.org/pao/policyNews/pn2010/02262010.php.

Read More

Blaze fierce in CA despite resistant vegetation

As fires cloak the San Gabriel Mountains in southern California, workers are attempting to carry out controlled burns along the perimeter of the fire. Firefighters battle part of the blaze in Glendale, CA. Photo courtesy Gina Ferazzi for the Los Angeles Times. These burns will reduce the amount of fuel around the current fire so that if the fire reaches this radius, it will have a higher chance of burning itself out. The concept of controlled burns has been used by forest managers for decades; these burns help to clear understory brush in areas with thick forest cover so that when naturally-occurring fires erupt, they don’t burn as hot and are easier to contain. But fire is in effect bad for global warming: burning fuel releases carbon into the atmosphere, increasing greenhouse gases. In a study due out in Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment next month, ecologists attempted to figure out the best scenario that reduces forest understory fuel, but releases less carbon to the atmosphere. Matthew Hurteau of Northern Arizona University and his colleague Malcolm North of the US Forest Service modeled eight different combinations of fire and manual understory thinning on carbon release from forests. They found that low-density forest that’s dominated by fire-resistant trees, such as pines, are the best balance of both worlds for reducing fire severity and keeping carbon in the forest. (See this post for more info on thinning techniques.) But this vegetation type is common in much of the San Gabriels, which are in many places dominated by spaced-out Jeffrey pines. Yet these fires still burn rampantly, in no small part due to the extreme drought and hot weather in southern California. Models can do their best to predict reality, but in this case environmental pressures seem to override the vegetation type in predicting the spread of this fire.  As the authors write in their paper: Wildfire effects on forest conditions and C emissions will vary across a burn landscape in response to local fuel conditions and the interaction of fire behavior and weather. Read more about the fires at the LA Times. Hurteau, M., & North, M. (2008). Fuel treatment effects on tree-based forest carbon storage and emissions under modeled wildfire scenarios Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment DOI:...

Read More

The effectiveness of fire fuel reduction

An invited feature in this month’s issue of Ecological Applications focuses on the U.S. National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, a five-year effort to assess the effectiveness of wildfire reduction methods currently in use by forest management agencies. The study compares the effectiveness of fire fuel reduction methods on restoring ecosystem health to national forests. Many U.S. forests once experienced frequent natural fires that removed low-lying, dry, mostly dead plants that fueled these burns. But human activities, such as livestock grazing, preferential logging and outright fire suppression or exclusion have led to changes in forest structure. Increases in tree density, smaller tree size and increased fuel load place as many as 10 million hectares of U.S. forest at high risk of hazardous fires, the authors write. Four articles in this issue examine the effects of prescribed burns, mechanical treatment (usually thinning of plant matter) and a combination of both with control plots at 12 study sites in forests across the U.S. Under severe weather conditions, the authors found that all treatments were effective at reducing fire severity. More specifically, they report that to quickly restore forests with few, large-diameter trees, a combination of prescribed burns and brush removal achieved the best results. The authors note, however, that this combination treatment also favored nonnative species invasions at some sites. In addition, a combination of prescribed burns and mechanical thinning increased the incidence of tree death from bark beetles and wood borers.  The authors therefore recommend caution and case-by-case assessments of best management practices for different forest types. Read the open-access feature here. McIver, J., Youngblood, A., & Stephens, S. (2009). The national Fire and Fire Surrogate study: ecological consequences of fuel reduction methods in seasonally dry forests Ecological Applications, 19 (2), 283-284 DOI:...

Read More