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News Article

Effects of forest management on fire threats

Using satellite data to uncover the effects of different management operations on fire severity in the US

Wildfires are an incredibly destructive force of nature that can decimate property and natural resources; in the US alone millions of acres are lost each year to these natural disasters. With plantation forestry becoming increasingly common not only in the US but globally it is no surprise then that there is a strong motivation for research into mitigation strategies and the effects of different management practices.

Wildfires can be generated by natural and human sources, including lightning, campfires or even cigarettes. One example of the former is the Douglas Complex which was ignitied by multiple lightning strikes which merged into two large fires (Dads Creek and Rabbit Mountain). This fire ended up burning over 19,760 ha in Southwestern Oregon, USA during the summer of 2013.

The area burned covered multiple different management operations, with 10,201.64 ha of forests managed by the Bureau of Land Management, 9,429.66 ha of private industrial forests, and 129.33 ha managed by the Oregon Department of Forestry destroyed in the fire. Douglas-fir is the primary commercial timber species managed on both private and public lands. This provided the perfect example for researchers at Humbolt and Oregon State Universities to understand how these different management practices can impact the severity of a fire.

To do this they used Landsat data to estimate fire severity and geospatial data to overlay and monitor weather, topography, pre-fire conditions, land ownership and fire progress. The severity of wildfires can be impacted by multiple factors including topography, fuels, climate and weather. How these factors are impacted by different management practices can also compound the severity.Specifically the researchers sought to uncover whether intensive plantations make fires worse and what the relative contributions of different variables are to fire severity.

The metric used by the researchers for fire severity was Relative differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR). Results showed that fire weather was the most significant contributor, stand age, ownership and then topographic things. The RdNBR was found to be higher on private industrial forests compared to federal forestland. Reasons may be the greater occurance of younger trees and spatially homogenized fuels. Some have posited that intensive forest management may reduce fire severity however the evidence is still conflicted and availability of high quality mapping data was noted as a constricting factor within this present study.

Wildfires have no respect for boundaries within multi-owner landscapes who each have different management objectives for their land. Therefore work which informs fire management approaches at a landscape-scale is important for fostering long-term and shared responsibility strategies.

To read the full article see the reference below:

Zald, H.S.J. & Dunn, C.J. (2018) Severe fire weather and intensive forest management increase fire severity in a multi-ownership landscape. Ecological Applications 0(0) pp. 1-13

To find >50,000 similar papers use the following search in the Forest Science Database: (Forest* OR manage* OR silvicultur* OR plantation* OR causes OR control OR damage OR danger OR resistance OR prevention) AND (fire* OR wildfire* OR “forest fire*”)

Article details

  • Author(s)
  • Ellen Baker
  • Date
  • 04 June 2018
  • Subject(s)
  • Management