Restoring the West Conference 2015


    

Click HERE for the conference program booklet. 

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Pinyon and Juniper Woodlands in the Intermountain West: Fire Ecology, Resilience, and Resistance Across Heterogeneous Landscapes            

Rick Miller, Professor Emeritus of Range and Fire Ecology, Department of Range Ecology and Management, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

Pinyon and juniper woodlands occupy more than 70 million acres in the Intermountain Region of the American West. They grow at elevations ranging from <2,000 to >8,000 ft and are typically found in precipitation zones between 10 to 20 inches. Seasonal distribution of precipitation significantly varies regionally with <10 to >35% received as summer precipitation. Disturbance regimes and the dynamics between sagebrush-steppe and sagebrush shrub particularly as they relate to fire and drought also significantly vary both at regional and local scales. The high degree of heterogeneity across these woodlands makes interpreting or predicting vegetation response to disturbance or vegetation management a challenge. In this presentation we will briefly look at woodland ecology and history and then address these key questions: 1) To what degree can we generalize about the history (e.g. expansion and infill), ecology, and management of these woodlands? 2) And, can we use the concepts of resilience and resistance to sort out the heterogeneity and better predict outcomes following wildfire or vegetation management at local and regional scales?

Rick Miller, Department of Range Ecology and Management, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon 97331, richardmiller@oregonstate.edu

Are Recent Large and Severe Fires Really Extraordinary? How Long-Term Records of Fire can Inform Fire Ecology and Management in the Western US.

Jen Pierce, Associate Professor, Department of Geosciences, Boise State University, Boise, Idaho

We examine records of Holocene fires and erosional response recorded in alluvial fan sediments from Idaho and the Northern Rockies, and the southwestern US. This study uses a compilation of nine individual studies, >480 radiocarbon-dated fragments of charcoal, and thousands of individual deposits extending back to ~14 ka. Radiocarbon ages from single charcoal fragments provide evidence of individual fire events across several study sites; and when combined, these records show minima and maxima in fire activity throughout the Holocene for the western U.S. Our record is of fire-related sedimentation primarily from moderate- to high-severity fires; in the SW especially, recurrence intervals for fire related events (often 100s of years) are much longer than mean fire intervals 10s of years from tree rings. Characteristics of the alluvial deposits,e.g. deposit thickness, and debris flows vs. sheetfloods provide a measure of the geomorphic response to fire and an indication of fire severity and landscape response. Fire chronologies are from three general ecosystems: high elevation mixed conifer forests in the Northern Rockies, montane ponderosa and Douglas-fir forests in the Northern Rockies and Southwest, and low elevation sagebrush steppe and open piñon-juniper woodlands near the Snake River Plain. The combined studies yield the following results. 1) Climate variability drives ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir forests in both the Southwest and Northern Rocky Mountains to burn ‘at both ends of the spectrum’, where frequent low-severity fires are typical, but higher-severity fires burn during severe droughts following fuel buildup over wet decades. 2) Deposit types vary with ecosystem type; sheetfloods are more common in sparsely vegetated sites and over drier Holocene periods that produce open forests, whereas denser forests and/or infrequent severe fires often produce debris flows. 3) The late Holocene arrival of ponderosa, lodgepole and piñon pine at sites in the Northern Rockies temporally corresponds with an increase in fire activity, suggesting a link between vegetation and fire regime changes. 4) Fires in dry sage steppe ecosystems are generally fuel-limited, but burn during times of multi-decadal to centennial wet and variable climates; grazing and other post-Euroamerican land-use changes, as well as invasive species, particularly influence modern fire regimes at these sites. 5) At moist high-elevation lodgepole pine and mixed conifer sites in Yellowstone and central Idaho, episodic large fire-related debris flows suggest high severity burns, often during times of severe multidecadal drought. 6) While records reveal regionally coherent peaks (e.g. ~200, 500, 900, 1700 and 2600 cal yr BP), historic fire activity is not generally synchronous among sites. Regional differences in climate between the xeric northwestern, northern Rocky Mountain, and monsoonal southwestern sites may account for some of these asynchronies. 7) Recent, severe fires (~1985-2015) have burned in 8 of the 10 sites described; erosional response appears particularly anomalous in the Southwest, where the impacts of Euroamerican fire suppression and land use have been greatest. This begs the question of whether or not widespread and severe modern fires herald the arrival of a new, no-analog era of fire in the western US.

Jen Pierce, Department of Geosciences, Boise State University, Boise, ID 83702, jenpierce@boisestate.edu

Prioritizing and Implementing Treatments to Address Wildfires and Invasive Annual Grasses in Sage-Grouse Habitat 

Mike Pellant, Senior Ecologist, National Office, Bureau of Land Management, Boise, Idaho

Maintaining or restoring Greater Sage-Grouse (sage-grouse) habitat is a high priority for federal land management agencies in the Great Basin.  The Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service, with the help of many other entities, developed a tool (Fire and Invasive Assessment Tool (FIAT)) to assist managers in identifying higher priority habitats within selected sage-grouse Priority Areas of Concern (PACs) and the management strategies needed to conserve or restore habitat.  Specifically, this assessment assists managers in reducing the threats to Greater Sage?Grouse resulting from impacts of invasive annual grasses, wildfires, and conifer expansion.  The cornerstone of the FIAT protocol is recent scientific research on resistance and resilience of Great Basin ecosystems combined with landscape cover of sagebrush. By assessing the resistance to invasive annual grasses and resilience after disturbance mangers are better able to prioritize sage-grouse habitats for conservation and restoration. Once the prioritization process is completed, spatially explicit management strategies are identified and prioritized. Management strategies are types of actions or treatments that managers typically implement to resolve resource issues. They can be divided into proactive approaches (e.g., fuels management and habitat recovery/restoration) and reactive approaches (e.g., fire operations and post?fire rehabilitation). Implementing scientifically sound and effective management strategies are critical for success. The Joint Fire Science Program’s Great Basin Fire Science Exchange and SageSTEP projects are two programs that have advanced the science and science delivery needed by managers to meet the challenge of managing or restoring sagebrush steppe habitat. Finally, the recent Department of Interior Secretarial Order 3336 (Rangeland Fire Prevention, Management, and Restoration) and associated implementation plan provides a blueprint to further advance an “all hands, all lands” approach to sagebrush habitat loss in the Great Basin.

Mike Pellant, National Office, Bureau of Land Management, Boise, ID, mike_pellant@blm.gov

Fire and Collaboration on the Fishlake National Forest 

Jason Kling, Richfield District Ranger, Fishlake National Forest, Richfield, Utah

The Richfield Ranger District (District) has been working collaboratively with the Monroe Mountain Working Group (MMWG) (20 plus stakeholders) to develop strategies to improve aspen ecosystems on Monroe Mountain; part of which includes reintroducing fire to these disturbance dependent ecosystems. Using fire at a landscape scale (approximately 61,000 acres) to improve and maintain aspen ecosystems over time while also minimizing impacts to private property and other uses on Monroe Mountain has been a challenging task. The Monroe Mountain area, located in Central Utah, encompasses approximately 176,000 acres of National Forest lands and approximately 12,000 acres of private inholdings. Dominant vegetation includes aspen and conifer in the higher elevations and sagebrush and pinyon/juniper in the lower elevations. Monroe Mountain provides elk and mule deer habitat with associated hunting opportunities, multiple allotments for livestock grazing, boreal toad and Bonneville cutthroat trout habitat, Northern goshawk and Flammulated owl habitat, Inventoried Roadless Areas, and much more. In August 2015, the District released a Final Environmental Impact Statement and Draft Record of Decision (ROD) that outlines a 10 year plan to improve aspen ecosystems on Monroe Mountain; a Final ROD is currently being prepared. This four year collaboration process has been enlightening and a success on the Fishlake National Forest, Richfield Ranger District.

Jason Kling, Richfield District Ranger, Fishlake National Forest, 115 East 900, 115 East 900 North, Richfield, Utah 84701, jkling@fs.fed.us

The Monroe Mountain Working Group: Benefits and Challenges of Collaboration    

Bill Hopkin, Grazing Specialist, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Salt Lake City, Utah

In August of 2015, the Richfield Ranger District of the USFS released a ‘Final Environmental Impacts Statement and Draft Record of Decision’ for a 10 year plan to improve aspen ecosystems on Monroe Mountain. This was the culmination of a 4 year collaborative effort. This presentation discusses how a group of more than 20 stakeholders arrived at consensus on management changes and restoration projects aimed at improving aspen ecosystem health on Monroe Mountain.

Bill Hopkin, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, 350 N. Redwood Road, PO Box 146500, Salt Lake City, UT, bhopkin@utah.gov

The Role of Fire and Fire Surrogate Treatments in Restoring Sagebrush Habitat in Utah’s West Desert

Brad Jessop, Range Ecologist, West Desert District, Bureau of Land Managemnt

Key to restoring sagebrush habitat in the Great Basin is minimizing wildfire and promoting ecosystem resiliency. Land managers use methods such as fuel reduction treatments and creation of fuel breaks to decrease fire risk and promote perennial dominated landscapes. Mastication (mechanical shredding) of pinyon and juniper has become an important tool for restoring sagebrush habitat throughout Utah’s West Desert. Benefits of mastication include ease of implementation, shrub retention, erosion control, and providing safe sites for seed germination and establishment. Achieving the goal of restoring ecological resiliency requires increasing perennial grass and forb cover. Ironically, this increase in fine fuels combined with masticated debris can actually increase the flammability of a site. When fire does occur within masticated treatments, however, fire behavior is modified and intensity is often decreased relative to adjacent untreated sites. Over time, the masticated debris will eventually break down. But in the short term, in some especially fire prone areas, prescribed burning of shredded material is an option to remove the fuel load while keeping the sagebrush component intact.

Brad Jessop, Fuels Natural Resource Specialist, Bureau of Land Management, West Desert District, 2370 S. Decker Lake Blvd., West Valley City, UT 84119

Tracking Post-Wildfire States and Transitions in the Sagebrush-Steppe

G. Matt Davies, Assistant Professor, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio

The Arid Lands Ecology Reserve of the Hanford Reach National Monument formerly contained one of the last major expanses of Wyoming big sagebrush-dominated habitat in the mid-Columbia Basin.  However, increasing wildfire frequency and extent, in response to growing numbers of anthropogenic ignitions and changes in fuel structure caused by cheatgrass invasion have caused successive and noticeable reductions in sagebrush cover.  To fully evaluate the effects of repeated disturbances and to prioritize and evaluate restoraiton activities, managers need to understand how entire vegetation communities change over time. Despite this, changes to the structure of vegetation communities as a whole are difficult to visualize and often rely on analytically-intensive multivariate statistical methods.  In contrast state and transition models are easy to use but may lack generally applicability and only describe qualitative changes in plant communities. We are developing a simple quantitative method to track changes in sagebrush--steppe vegetation community structure. The model has two axes, one relating to shrub dominance and the other to dominance by native species. This model can be used to track transitions following wildfires and restoration treatments and can also be used to assess the resistance and resilience of communities in relation to disturbance and dominant plant traits. We hope the method will be useful for managers wanting a cost-effective methods to evaluate the effects of their management actions in shrub-steppe ecosystems. 

Matt Davies, School of Environment and Natural Resources, The Ohio State University, 210 Kottman Hall, 2021 Coffey Road, Columbus, OH 43210, davies.411@osu.edu

The Watershed Restoration Initiative and Fire

Alan Clark, Watershed Program Director, Utah Department of Natural Resources, Salt Lake City, Utah

Now entering its tenth year of completing landscape-scale projects in Utah, the purpose of WRI is to restore and improve watershed health in priority areas across the state. In 2014, with support of $3.95 million from the Utah Legislature, the WRI partnership (which included 91 partners) completed over 130 projects restoring 112,987 acres of uplands and 55 miles of stream and riparian areas. Since its inception, WRI partners have completed over 1,340 projects, treating over 1.15 million acres of habitat with an investment by all partners of over $130 million. Almost all terrestrial projects carried out by WRI reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire in the long-term by restoring the structure and function of systems. Some projects focused on treating invasive species including cheatgrass, tamarisk and Russian Olive as well as Stage 3 encroached pinyon/juniper stands provide an immediate reduction in the risk of destructive fires. Many projects have as their goal to reintroduce beneficial fire into these systems. Higher elevation prescribed burns are used to regenerate aspen systems. Finally, WRI works with its federal and state partners to rehabilitate watersheds after wildfires to restore structure and function and reduce the risk of future uncontrolled fires.

Alan G. Clark, Watershed Program Director, Utah Department of Natural Resources, 1594 West North Temple, Salt Lake City, UT 84114, alangclark@utah.gov

Understanding the Effects of the Twitchell Canyon Wildfire on Stream Geomorphology and Fish Habitat

Patrick Belmont, Assistant Professor, Department of Watershed Sciences, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

Impacts of wildfire are highly variable; some areas experience only modest changes and are quick to recover while other areas incur profound changes to aquatic biota, in-stream habitat, water quality, watershed hydrology, hillslope erosion, and sediment transport. In some cases, these impacts only affect areas within or near the burned area, while in other cases the impacts fare propagated far downstream. At present we have very limited ability to predict which parts of the landscape, and thus which populations of fish, are most likely to be negatively affected by fire. Similarly, we have little basis for projecting ecosystem recovery and prioritizing areas for fish populations. The Twitchell Canyon fire burned 45,000 acres near Beaver, UT in July 2010. Over 30% of the area burned at high severity, which included two major headwater streams that sustained a trout population. In summer 2011, monsoonal thunderstorms caused massive debris flows and sheet-flow erosion that altered channel morphology and aquatic habitat in the burned area. A previously robust, non-native trout fishery was nearly extirpated as a result of the geomorphic response to the wildfire. Extensive field observations were correlated with predictive models for post-wildfire debris flows and characteristics of the topography and topology of the watersheds. Watershed characteristics that appear to preclude negative impacts to fish habitat are slope and valley width. Where slopes flatten and valleys widen, sediments are deposited in a way that high quality fish habitat is buried. Radiocarbon dating of burned material and field observation were used to determine the frequency of wildfire and its synchronicity over the Holocene. Our initial sampling campaign appears to document 10-15 individual wildfires and with age estimate spanning the recent half of the Holocene (~8,000 years).

Patrick Belmont, Watershed Sciences Department, Utah State University, 5210 Old Main Hill, NR 210, Logan, UT 84322-5210, patrick.belmont@usu.edu

Designing a Regional Network of Fuel Breaks to Protect Greater Sage-Grouse Habitat: An Experimental Approach using Circuitscape

Nathan Welch, GIS Analyst, The Nature Conservancy Boise Office, Boise, Idaho

The loss of sagebrush steppe to uncharacteristically large and frequent wildfires has been identified as a primary threat to Greater Sage-Grouse (GSG) populations in the western portion of the species’ range. Policy documents regularly identify the need for landscape-scale approaches to design and implement fuel treatments (e.g., fuel breaks) to prevent loss of habitat to wildfires. In an effort to help federal and state agencies reduce the impact of large wildfires, we developed a GIS approach that uses Circuitscape to identify strategic locations for fuel breaks and simulate potential fuel breaks to protect remaining large patches of important GSG habitat. As a demonstration, we applied our experimental approach to a 27-million acre (110,000 km2) region that includes parts of Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, and Utah. We used the Circuitscape model to identify a set of strategic locations for fuel breaks and simulate potential fuel breaks with different levels of resistance to fire. We proposed six focal geographies in our Project Area for further investigation for designing and implementing fuel breaks. From the beginning, we knew the detailed design and implementation of fuel breaks would require close collaboration with public land fire managers. We have discovered that even preliminary design of a network of fuel breaks will require close collaboration with local experts, especially BLM fuels management staff. The participation of local experts and their support of the design process will be critical for success. Besides encouraging others to test our Circuitscape approach for modeling fuel breaks, we intend to pursue a collaboration with fire managers in at least one of the focal geographies we identified.

Nathan Welch, The Nature Conservancy, 950 W Bannock St. #210, Boise, ID 83702, nwelch@tnc.org

Monitoring the Impact of Climate Change on Fire Frequency and Severity in Great Basin Bristlecone Pine Sky Island Ecosystems

Mike Jenkins, Associate Professor, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

High elevation five needle pines are rapidly declining throughout western North America due to warming temperatures, mountain pine beetle, white pine blister rust, and alteration of the naturally occurring fire regime. The impact of climate change is especially acute in sky islands of the Great Basin as warming temperatures alter tree distribution and contribute to overstory tree mortality. Great Basin bristlecone pine forests occur as ecological islands at the highest elevations of mountain ranges separated by extensive rangeland or desert basins. Great Basin bristlecone pine ecosystems are highly fragmented and contain many biodiversity “hot spots” with a high degree of species endemism. It is the fragmentation history and the number and character of the sky islands that are key to understanding biodiversity of Great Basin bristlecone pine forests. This paper will address the effects of climate change on Great Basin bristlecone pine forests. Specifically we will discuss climate-induced changes to the fire regime through alteration of surface and canopy fuel loading, fire hazard and risk, and on predicted changes in fire behavior and severity. Secondly we will evaluate Great Basin bristlecone pine volatile organic compounds across elevation gradients to assess changes in tree biochemistry in response to climatic stress.

Michael Jenkins, Utah State University, Wildland Resources Department, 5230 Old Main Hill, Logan, UT 84322,  mike.jenkins@usu.edu

Restoring Whitebark Pine Ecosystems of the West in the Face of Climate Change

Robert Keane, Research Ecologist, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Misoula, Montana

The combined effects of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreaks, fire exclusion policies, and the exotic disease white pine blister rust (caused by the pathogen Cronartium ribicola) has caused a severe decline in high elevation whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis) forests across western North America. Predicted changes in climate may exacerbate this decline by (1) accelerating succession to more shade tolerant conifers, (2) creating environments unsuitable for whitebark pine, (3) increasing the frequency and severity of mountain pine beetle outbreaks and wildland fire events, and (4) facilitating spread of blister rust. Since more than 90 percent of whitebark pine forests occur on public lands in the U.S. and Canada, a trans-boundary, a range-wide whitebark pine restoration strategy was developed for public lands to coordinate and inform restoration efforts across federal and provincial land management agencies. In this presentation, we will discuss the fire ecology of this valuable ecosystem to provide a context for restoration. Then, the range-wide strategy will be presented and the full suite of restoration activities will be explored. Last, we will present guidelines for restoring whitebark pine under future climates using the rangewide restoration strategy structure. The information on adjusting whitebark pine restoration effects for climate change impacts come from two sources: we conducted a comprehensive review of the literature to assess climate change impacts on whitebark pine ecology and management and then we used the spatially explicit, ecological process model FireBGCv2 to simulate various climate change, management, and fire exclusion scenarios The paper is written as a general guide to be used with the rangewide strategy for planning, designing, implementing, and evaluating fine-scale restoration activities for whitebark pine by public land management agencies by addressing climate change impacts.

Robert E. Keane, Research Ecologist, US Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, 5775 West Hwy 10 Missoula, MT 59801-9361, rkeane@fs.fed.us

Tree-Ring Reconstructions of Fire and Forest Histories: Providing the “What” and “Why” for Forest Restoration

Peter M. Brown, Director, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, Fort Collins, Colorado

Tree-ring reconstructions of fire and forest histories provide central evidence of long-term ecological dynamics in forested ecosystems, especially during periods before widespread human impacts such as fire suppression, logging, and grazing. These reconstructions also serve as models of resilient conditions that forest managers and scientists use to justify, guide, and assess ecological restoration efforts. In this talk, I discuss the development, use, and limitations of tree-ring reconstructions and how such data are informing forest restoration efforts using an example from the Front Range in Colorado. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) is a nationwide effort to promote science-based ecological restoration projects on National Forest frequent-fire forest landscapes. CFLRP projects are directed by multi-stakeholder groups who set goals for restoration treatments, assist in project implementation, and provide learning through adaptive monitoring. I will describe the process that the Colorado Front Range CFLRP has gone through in, first, assessing the level of historical data we possessed at the start of the project and, second, supporting a research program to define missing components including stand to landscape forest structural elements (species composition, tree densities and basal areas, and tree to landscape spatial patterns).   

Peter Brown, Rocky Mountain Tree-Ring Research, 2901 Moore Lane, Ft. Collins, CO 80526, pmb@rmtrr.org

Of Fire, Sage Grouse and Our Federal Lands

John Freemuth, Professor of Public Policy and Senior Fellow for Environment and Public Lands, School of Public Service, Boise State University

This presentation will explore the political, policy and science landscape of sage grouse, the sage brush steppe ecosystem and fire. It will discuss what has happened since the November 2012 conference The Next Steppe, held in Boise and the authors presentation there, "Why All This Matters."

John Freemuth, Environmental Research Building, Room 5137, Mail Stop 1935, Boise State University, 1910 University Dr., Boise, ID 83725, jfreemu@boisestate.edu

Past and Future Wildfire in the Interior West as Predicted by the Calibrated Combustion Dynamics of Ecosystems

Richard Guyette, Associate Research Professor, School of Natural Resources, University of Missouri

Society is confronted with the effects of climate on wildland fire regimes in ecosystems. We use an ecosystem combustion model (PC2FM) developed with atmospheric variables to predict and simulate fire probability. Precipitation, temperature, and oxygen, three major climate variables that affect the combustion dynamics in ecosystems, are used to address climate forced variance in fire frequency. The use of ecosystem fire metrics in combustion chemistry and physics offers a quantitative method for estimating wildland fire intervals and probability in addition to the well-studied forcing by topography, ignition, and vegetation. Here we apply a combustion process model calibrated with a large empirical fire scar data set. Exothermic reactions and rate laws are used to formulate, map and graph wildland fire dynamics. Past and future maps of fire intervals are presented and discussed. Model results are graphed in a simulated ‘climate space’ that includes temperature and the dual effects of water in ecosystem combustion: 1) the production of carbon bonds (fuel) and 2) the inhibition of collision frequency. These contrasting processes of water in ecosystems define Switch Over Loci (climate sensitive ‘tipping points’) that estimate fire probability classes such as: 1) precipitation insensitive, 2) precipitation unstable, and 3) precipitation sensitive. Most of the area in the Interior West falls into category 2 (precipitation unstable) and 3 (precipitation sensitive) because of low moisture and high temperatures.

Richard Guyette, University of Missouri, School of Natural Resources, 203 Anheuser-Busch Natural Resource Building, Columbia, Missouri 65211, GuyetteR@missouri.edu

Bringing Back the Trout: Metapopulation Viability of Bonneville Cutthroat Trout in a Fire-Impacted Watershed

Colton Finch, PhD candidate, Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center, Utah State University

Wildland fires are becoming more frequent, larger, and more severe as forested western landscapes adjust to a warmer and drier climate and elevated fuel storage due to decades of fire suppression. Although native fish communities co-evolved with and are resilient to natural fire perturbations, uncharacteristic fires can be at odds with fish conservation, especially in physically or biologically fragmented modern watersheds. We estimated the extinction rate of a Bonneville cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarkii utah) metapopulation under modeled future fire regimes on Fishlake National Forest in south-central Utah. We parameterized this model to include demographic stochasticity, movement between subpopulations, and occurrence and synchrony of fire by drawing values from a normal distribution centered on realistic mean values (published or estimated). We simulated these values for each year of a 100-year period using a matrix population projection. We conclude that resilience of Bonneville cutthroat trout metapopulations increases with increased subpopulation connectivity and reduced synchrony of fire perturbations. Managing native fish populations to increase resilience to wildfire should include removal of barriers, if possible, as well as promoting asynchronous fire occurrence to allow discrete subpopulations of fish to recover and contribute to overall metapopulation stability.

Colton Finch, PhD candidate, Department of Watershed Sciences and Ecology Center, Utah State University
5210 Old Main Hill NR 210 Logan, Utah 84322-5210,
colton@aggiemail.usu.edu

Post-fire Grazing Management of Sagebrush Steppe Plant Communities in the Great Basin

Jeffrey Gicklhorn, Research Assistant, University of Nevada Reno, Reno, Nevada

Wildfire size and frequency is increasing in the Great Basin, which requires adjustments in management to allow for ecosystem recovery. Domestic livestock grazing is a major land use in the region, and sustainable post-fire grazing management practices that ensure productive and resilient sagebrush steppe communities are essential to successful ecosystem recovery. Recovery hinges on the growth, reproduction, and recruitment of perennial understory plants, especially bunchgrasses. Perennial grasses provide forage and habitat, increase resistance to invasion, and assist with soil stability and hydrologic function. Here we review the available post-fire grazing literature and provide guidelines for maintaining productive sagebrush steppe communities in grazed areas after fire. Recommendations include: 1) delaying grazing until defined site objectives have been met, 2) delaying grazing until after seed maturity or shatter to promote bunchgrass recovery, 3) instituting an appropriate rotation system to maintain plant production, cover, and composition, and 4) implementing regular monitoring and assessment protocols to determine grazing regime effectiveness.

Jeffrey Gicklhorn, Department of Natural Resources & Environmental Science, University of Nevada, 1664 N. Virginia Street, Reno, NV 89557, jeff.gicklhorn@gmail.com

Unraveling Fire and Herbivore Interactions to Manage Tree Cover in an African Savanna

Eric LaMalfa, PhD Candidate, Wildland Resources Department, Utah State University

Savanna ecologist continue to debate the relative importance of fire and herbivory disturbances in affecting local savanna tree cover and applied issues such as "bush encroachment". Contemporary grass-tree co-existence models and a large body of literature emphasize the importance of both top-down disturbance types. However, no fully replicated experiments have simultaneously manipulated fire and herbivore regimes to directly examine potentially synergistic interactions controlling tree demography. We hypothesized that the “fire trap” wherein trees are repeatedly top-killed by fire and prevented from transitioning to taller fire resistant height classes, is further reinforced by the negative effects of ungulate browsing on tree height. Conversely, grazing by livestock or the absence of all herbivory was expected to increase height and biomass of re-sprouting trees after fire. We used the Kenya Long Term Exclosure Experiment (KLEE), which for the past 20 years has restricted access by six different combinations of mega-herbivores (i.e., elephant and giraffe), meso-wildlife (e.g. gazelle, oryx, cape buffalo), and cattle. Within each of 18 four-ha KLEE plots a 30 X 30 meter prescribed burn was implemented in 2013. We used linear regression models to compare pre-fire tree height and post-fire tree re-sprout height and morphology relationships among the six different herbivore treatments. One and a half years after the fires, the relationship between pre-fire tree height and post-fire tree height was dependent upon both the herbivore treatment and colonization by ant mutualists that defend trees against browsing. In the presence of wildlife (i.e. browsers) trees compensated for lost tissue by increasing the number of lateral basal stems. We expect that these shorter multi-stemmed growth forms will have prolonged susceptibility to future fires reinforcing the negative effects of fire on tree cover. These results highlight that long term changes in tree cover may be dependent upon the stocking rate/ density of both wild and domestic herbivores following disturbance. 

Eric M. LaMalfa, Department of Wildland Resources, Utah State University, Logan, Utah 84322, eric.lamalfa@aggiemail.usu.edu

Public and Agency Perceptions of Smoke from Wild and Prescribed Fire

Christine Olsen, Research Associate and Instructor, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

Smoke is a growing concern for communities as well as land and air quality managers. It affects air quality across landscapes much larger than the originating fire and can have significant negative impacts on nearby communities. Earlier this year, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released proposed rules for how states will work to meet the ambient air quality standards for particulate matter, which were lowered in 2013. At the same time, wildfires seem to grow in number and size every year, producing major smoke impacts on communities across the country, and underscoring the need to reduce fuels on unburned landscapes to reduce the risk of future fire events. Managers and landowners wishing to use fire as a tool for fuel reduction (i.e., prescribed fire, pile burns) could face significant barriers, both because of air quality standards and because of public concern for smoke impacts. Accordingly, it is important to understand public beliefs regarding smoke, especially focusing on what factors may influence acceptance of smoke emissions. In this presentation I will present findings from three projects funded by the Joint Fire Science Program, the Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center (WWETAC), and the National Science Foundation. Data includes interviews among forest and fire managers, air quality regulators, and some community group members, as well as public survey data from dozens of communities across the country. This presentation will focus on the major challenges identified by interview participants regarding smoke management, communication strategies that were identified as useful for overcoming these challenges, and factors that may influence public tolerance of smoke from different sources (e.g., wildland fire, prescribed fire, agricultural burns).

Christine Olsen, Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society, Oregon State University, 321 Richardson Hall, Corvallis, OR 97331, christine.olsen@oregonstate.edu

The Role of Prescribed Fire Councils in Restoring the West

J. Morgan Varner, Assistant Professor, Department of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation, Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia

Prescribed fire faces challenges to its use as a widespread ecological restoration tool in many fire-prone western North American ecosystems. The primary challenges to prescribed fire use include social, regulatory, and operational impediments. Prescribed Fire Councils (PFCs) are a mechanism utilized across the US to maintain and increase the use of prescribed fire, to increase outreach and science delivery, to engage stakeholders, and increase peer-to-peer education. PFCS were developed in the southeastern US and have recently expanded into western states and British Columbia. PFCs are diverse and represent place-relevant constituencies and the issues that the prescribed fire communities face. PFCs offer a way forward to increase and improve prescribed fire as a cultural, silvicultural, and restoration tool.

J. Morgan Varner, Department of Forest Resources & Environmental Conservation, 228C Cheatham Hall, Virginia Tech, 310 W. Campus Dr., Blacksburg, VA 24061,  mvarner@vt.edu

Use of Livestock to Mitigate Risk of Wildfire

Troy Forrest, UDAF-Grazing Improvement Program Program Manager - Northwest Region Coordinator Utah Grazing Improvement Program Director, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, Salt Lake City, Utah

We will discuss several ways that domestic livestock and managed grazing can be used to prevent wildfire. We will discuss season’s of use, stocking density, types of livestock to be used and successful methods of using grazing to reduce fine fuel loads and thereby reduce the risk of wildfire. We will also discuss using livestock for establishment of green strips.

Troy Forrest, Utah Grazing Improvement Program, Utah Department of Agriculture and Food, 350 N Redwood Road, PO Box 146500, Salt Lake City, UT 84114, tforrest@utah.gov

Fire, Rain, and Post-Fire Restoration of Sagebrush Steppe in the Great Basin

David S. Pilliod, Supervisory Research Ecologist, Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center, US Geological Survey, Boise, Idaho

Seeding rangelands, particularly after fire, is a common practice in sagebrush steppe habitats of the Great Basin. We summarized historic trends of 5,450 seeding treatments in the Great Basin from the 1940s to present and examined relative levels of success for a subset of projects in relation to long-term precipitation patterns and subsequent fires. Preliminary results suggest that large fires often occur the summer following a high precipitation event, probably because of an increase in fine fuel loads. Soil stabilization or rehabilitation seedlings in the fall or spring after a fire often occurred when precipitation was lower than normal, possibly contributing to lower than expected germination and seedling survival. These patterns suggest that post-fire seeding in the Great Basin over the last 75 years may have been hampered by low rainfall in the years following fire. Subsequent fires that re-burn seeded areas further complicate restoration of sagebrush steppe in the Great Basin. We found that more than 40% of seeding treatments have reburned since 1940, usually within 10 years of seeding. These results suggest that restoring sagebrush steppe to the Great Basin faces many challenges, but perhaps allowing more flexibility in the timing of seeding after fire may be a first step towards increasing probability of success.  

David S. Pilliod U.S. Geological Survey, Forest and Rangleland Ecosystem Science Center, Snake River Field Station, 970 Lusk St., Boise, Idaho 83706, dpilliod@usgs.gov

Insights into Fire Severity and Post-Fire Recovery from an Integrated Analysis of Forestry Inventory Data and Long-Term Fire Mapping Datasets

Sara Goeking, Biological Scientist, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Inventory and Monitoring Program

Plot data from the Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program can be combined with spatially explicit polygon data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) Program to provide insights into fire effects, fire severity, and long-term recovery in forested areas. MTBS delineates two main products: burned-area polygons that provide a census of large fires from 1984 to the present, and severity layers with 30-m resolution, where each pixel is classified into one of four major severity classes, ranging from very low or unburned to high-severity fire. We spatially intersected FIA’s plot data with both MTBS datasets to quantify fire effects in three ways. First, a characterization of burned areas throughout our 8-state study area showed that 41% of the acreage of large fires since 1984 burned on forest land, and the most commonly burned stands were in ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine, and Douglas-fir forest types. Nearly 35% of post-fire plots had no live basal area of trees ≥5” diameter remaining. Second, we examined the relationship between time since fire and basal area, seedling density, and sapling density at FIA plots. Survivor trees experienced low post-fire mortality rates, and almost half of post-fire dead basal area persisted for up to 25 years after fire. Seedling density peaked 5 to 10 years after fire, while sapling density increased steadily for at least 25 years post-fire. Third, we identified FIA plots that were measured both pre-fire and post-fire, and then compared mean post-fire reductions in live basal area by MTBS severity class. Plots that experienced high-severity fire had higher pre-fire basal area than plots that burned at lower intensities. At a regional scale, post-fire reductions in live basal area were significantly different across the four MTBS severity classes, although severity classes were less distinguishable for individual forest types.
 

Sara Goeking, Interior West Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) Program, Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, 507 25th St., Suite 300, Ogden, UT 84401,  goeking@fs.fed.us

Quaking Aspen: a Burning Desire in an ‘Asbestos Forest’

Paul Rogers, Director, Western Aspen Alliance, Adjunct Associate Professor, Utah State University, Logan, Utah

Media reports of quaking aspen’s doom are common in the western U.S. We’re told aspen is dying ‘from Alberta to Arizona’ or that the future of aspen is bleak with projected climate change. “Aspen decline” - defined variously over recent decades by waves of prognosticators - is caused by cool wet climates, warm dry climates, fire suppression, livestock, elk, fir encroachment, rampant development, ozone, recreation, and radio waves. What is the actual situation with aspen and how might we expect this far-flung species to react to projected changes? Climate, in partnership with shorter-term weather events, has the strongest influence on wildfire occurrence. Many, not all, aspen forests will be subject to fire’s increasing influences as the climate heats up. In this presentation we will explore expected impacts on aspen ecosystems under changing climates, with an emphasis on aspen fire types. Secondarily, we will discuss aspen’s response to fire and how that varies considerably based on many factors. A broader aim is to emphasize unique fire-related systems and to wean practitioners from one-size-fits-all prescriptions for aspen forests. 

Paul Rogers, Director Western Aspen Alliance, Adjunct Associate Professor - Wildland Resources Department, Ecology Center Associate, Utah State University, Old Main Hill, Logan, Utah 84322 p.rogers@aggiemail.usu.edu