A JFSP Fire Science Exchange Network
Bringing People Together & Sharing Knowledge in the Northern Rockies

Resilient landscapes and fire regimes: Meaning, metrics, and management: Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program

Author(s): Sharon M. Hood, Donald A. Falk, Martin Nie
Year Published: 2021

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (hereafter: Cohesive Strategy) mandates the restoration and maintenance of landscapes, with the goal that “landscapes across all jurisdictions are resilient to fire-related disturbances in accordance with management objectives.” This policy includes using wildland fire to improve ecological resilience, but because the term resilience is ambiguous, difficult to measure, and rarely quantified, there are no clear, consistent methods for translating resilience science into resilience policy and eventually into resilience management. Resilience may be a concept that managers and policy makers can understand in a general sense, but how can this concept be operationalized to guide ecosystem management in practice? There is a lack of guidelines for translating resilience theory into operational management actions, particularly in the context of fire management and current socio-political frameworks. As one of the most influential disturbance agents in western US landscapes, wildfire is central to the development of resilence-focused management strategies; yet the complex nature of fire across climate gradients, fuel types, fire regimes, and management history resists any simple definitions of what resilience ecosystems look like, when they are vulnerable to change, and how fire-driven changes in landscapes may be. A coherent assessement of resilience, grounded in theory, meaning and metrics that are central to fire ecology and fire management, is needed to guide management actions due to the strong link between resilience and sustainability. Large-scale policy directives such as the Cohesive Strategy call for transformative change in how the US manages fire, while local-to-national level legislation generally works through incremental changes in land management. This dilemma is exemplified in Forest Plan revisions under the 2012 National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule, which directs National Forests to manage for resilience but provides little concrete guidance regarding what this is or how it can be accomplished.

We conducted a literature review examining the national regulations and policies associated with US Forest Service National Forest planning. Forest planning is a three-tiered process and the 2012 Planning Rule and forest plans represent the first two tiers. Both now allow, or even encourage, the management of natural-ignition fires for resource benefit. As such, forest plan revisions are now a viable vehicle for changing fire management paradigms. Going forward, incident-level decision-making will provide the needed growth and change in fire management in the USFS. The cumulative impact of these decisions will determine if the USFS fire management programs will fulfill the intent of the 2012 Planning Rule and Cohesive Strategy.

We summarized how current research is re-defining ecological resilence and describe the challenges and opportunities of implementing therories of resilience into operational land management strategies in fire-prone forests. Our concept papers emphasized several aspects of ecological resilience, including 1) it is highly scale-dependent process, 2) climate changing is transforming some ecoystems, but this degree and pace which this is occuring depend on local and regional factors, and 3) historical range of variation (HRV) is still a viable benchmark for assessing resilience, but future range of variation (FRV) should also be evaulated. We demonstrated how simulation modeling to derive time series representing HRV and FRV can be used to quantify resilience and produce resilience indices based on the departure of current conditions from HRV.

Citation: Hood S, Falk D, and Nie M. 2021. Resilient landscapes and fire regimes: Meaning, metrics, and management: Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program Project ID16-3-01-14. 30 p.
Topic(s): Fire & Climate, Recovery after fire, Resilience, Restoration
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 23788
Record updated: Nov 2, 2021