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Wilderness Fire Management: Easier Now or Later?

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This workshop and field tour brought together managers and scientists to share knowledge about topics important to wilderness fire management. These included future challenges related to changing climate and fire seasons; vegetation, soil, and water response to fire; resilience; risk management; and engaging with the public. The Northern Rockies Fire Science Network partnered with the Rocky Mountain Ranger District, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest to host this event.


Background - Although the practice of fire suppression has excluded wildland fire from many western forests, some wilderness areas have more closely maintained their historic fire regimes. The Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex is an example of an area where lightning-caused fires are often managed for their beneficial effects. These areas provide a tremendous opportunity for understanding the complexity of wildland fire as an ecosystem process, and for appreciating the social factors that influence the management of wilderness fire.

Event Details - On Tuesday, July 9, an all-day workshop in Choteau, Montana featured talks from scientists who have conducted research relevant to wilderness fire and from managers who oversee wilderness fire management. The field tour took place July 10-11. On the morning of July 10th, the group boated across the Gibson Reservoir and had afternoon presentations and discussions at the campsite. On July 11, participants hiked to Sun Butte for views and discussions of the landscape mosaic of vegetation patterns created by past fires. 

Workshop presentations can be viewed on this page in video and pdf formats. Workshop presentations follow the workshop agenda.

Presentations - 

Fire Management in the Bob Marshall: Why I Do What I Do
Mike Munoz (District Ranger, Rocky Mountain District, Helena-Lewis and Clark National Forest) provides an overview of why wilderness fire is important to the Bob Marshall Wilderness and the surrounding lands and communities (9:01 minutes). 

A Scientist’s Perspective on Why Wilderness Fire Matters
Carol Miller (Research Ecologist, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute) discusses the ecological importance of wilderness fire, lessons learned, and the importance of personal commitment to wilderness fire management (14:43 minutes). Download presentation slides (3.7 MB).

Wilderness Fire Management: Harder Then or Now? Recap of 2016 Workshop
Vita Wright (Principal Investigator, Northern Rockies Fire Science Network and U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station) provides a recap of the 2016 wilderness fire workshop - Learning from a Legacy of Wilderness Fire in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex (20:02 minutes). Download presentation slides (2.7 MB).

Resilience Mechanisms and Fire-driven Tipping Points in the Forests of the Eastern Continental Divide
Cameron Naficy (Postdoctoral Research Scientist, Forest and Conservation Sciences, University of British Columbia) addressed ecological dynamics and resilience mechanisms in mixed-severity fire regime ecosystems and characterized changes in fire regime and landscape vegetation along a gradient of fire frequencies (20:46 minutes). Download presentation slides (8.7 MB).

Using Fire to Increase Soil Carbon and Water Holding Capacity
Debbie Page-Dumroese (Research Soil Scientist, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station) addressed forest management implications for increased soil carbon and water-holding capacity in soils after wildfire and prescribed fire (16:49 minutes). Download presentation slides (5.3 MB).

What Can We Expect for Vegetation and Fire Regimes as the Climate Changes?
Carol Miller (Research Ecologist, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute) highlighted recent research that uses a climate analog approach to model potential vegetation and fire regime shifts with a changing climate. Vegetation is expected to shift toward vegetation associated with warmer climate, and fire regime shifts depend on the bioclimatic environment. Caveats and assumptions of the research are noted, and the direction of change is emphasized rather than magnitude and timing (19:26 minutes). Download presentation slides (2.6 MB).

Post-Fire Climate Limits Ponderosa Pine and Douglas-fir Regeneration
Kimberley Davis (Postdoctoral Scientist, W. A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, University of Montana) discussed recent research addressing how annual climate limits post-fire seedling establishment and how climate suitability for post-fire recruitment has changed over time (17:37 minutes). Download presentation slides (4.0 MB).

USFS Perspectives on Wilderness Fire and Long-duration Fire Management
Frankie Romero (Fire Use & Fuels Management Program Manager, U.S. Forest Service Washington Office Fire & Aviation Management) highlighted USFS emphasis areas of Active Management and Shared Stewardship, increasing Fire Use trends in the agency, reasons for concern and reasons to be encouraged regarding wildland fire use, and take-home messages about wilderness fire (21:18 minutes). Download presentation slides (0.3 MB).

Fire Decision-Making Tools
Tonja Opperman (Fire Applications Specialist, U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Management Research, Development, & Applications) reviewed a variety of WFDSS (Wildland Fire Decision Support System) tools, such as Long-term Planning/Management Assessment Points, Basic Spatial Fire Behavior, and Fire History Maps, as well as non-WFDSS tools that support wildland fire decision-making. She also discussed factors affecting future fire policy and management decisions (21:51 minutes). Download presentation slides (5.2 MB). Four useful handouts are also available below under "Other Resources".

Wildfire Risk in the Northern Rockies, Northwest, and Southwest Geographic Areas
Erin Noonan-Wright (Fire Applications Specialist, U.S. Forest Service Wildland Fire Management Research, Development, & Applications) discussed how land managers make decisions on wildland fires, how they make an initial assessment of risk, how risk is different spatially for the U.S., focusing on 3 geographic areas, and what the role of barriers is in the Southwest and how they affect flexibility in decision-making (16:36 minutes). Download presentation slides (2.1 MB).

How Can We Strengthen Wilderness Fire Management?
Julia Berkey (Graduate Student, W. A. Franke College of Forestry & Conservation, University of Montana) highlighted what she has learned from interviewing current and former northern Rockies wilderness fire managers and scientists, providing insights on how wilderness fire management could be strengthened. She discussed policy changes and outreach emphases as well as specific ways to mentor, train, and empower managers so that they have the tools and support they need to effectively manage wilderness fire (19:29 minutes). Download presentation slides (5.7 MB).

What Limits Use of Fire as a Management Tool on National Forests?
Sarah McCaffrey (Social Scientist, U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station) discussed the results of studies addressing internal barriers to the use of large-scale fire for forest restoration. In addition to identifying three cross-cutting themes regarding internal needs and priorities, the studies also provide new insights on public response to fire management (21:35 minutes). Download presentation slides (0.1 MB).

 

Other Resources -

Workshop Handouts (Tonja Opperman):

 

Past Wilderness Fire Workshop & Field Trip Summaries / Presentations 

 

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