Research & Publications
Documents, publications, photos, videos, and more, brought to you by the California Fire Science Consortium.
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The wildland-urban interface (WUI) is the area where houses and wildland vegetation meet or intermingle, and where wildfire problems are most pronounced. Here we report that the WUI in the United States grew rapidly from 1990 to 2010 in terms of both number of new houses (from 30.8 to 43.4 million; 41% growth) and land area (from 581,000 to 770,000 km2; 33% growth), making it the fastest-growing land use type in the conterminous United States. The vast majority of new WUI areas were the result of new housing (97%), not related to an increase in wildland vegetation. Within the perimeter of recent wildfires (1990–2015), there were 286,000 houses in 2010, compared with 177,000 in 1990. Furthermore, WUI growth often results in more wildfire ignitions, putting more lives and houses at risk. Wildfire problems will not abate if recent housing growth trends continue.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers with the Conservation Biology Institute and the U.S. Geological Survey showed that, across the U.S. on landscapes dominated by humans, climate has played a relatively small role in determining wildfire activity.
This brief describes potential effects of two fuel treatment types for Northern California chaparral. Different scenarios involving prescribed fire, mastication and season (fall, winter, or spring) were explored to determine effects on chaparral and findings include recommendations on when and how to use treatments where necessary.
This brief describes the advantages and evolution of postfire epicormic resprouting, where trees resprout from the trunk or stem of trees. This form of resprouting is more rare than resprouting from the base of plants and occurs in Australia and South Africa, as well as in California, the Mediterranean Basin and the Canary Islands in the northern hemisphere.
This research brief discusses national trends in rebuilding and new development after wildfire, as well as policy choices and adaptation measures local governments and communities pursued after fire, through case studies.
Land managers, researchers, and conservationists gathered to share the latest in invasive plant biology and management at the California Invasive Plant Council (CAL IPC). 2017 Symposium presentations are now online.
Bumble bees are important pollinators of native plant species. This brief provides information that can support managers in making nuanced decisions to benefit bumble bees during post-fire management.
Authors analyzed the 2013 Rim Fire to see how fire severity varied with factors. Potential factors included the proportion of the landscape previously treated or burned, fire weather, vegetation, and water balance.
Future moderate and high-severity fires may pose a substantial threat to the long-term persistence of the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis).
Future climate-induced shifts in fire regimes and plant distributions could uncouple vegetation from the fire regimes for which they are adapted. The brief discusses changes to fire-adapted plant communities under modeled climate change scenarios and their implications on the Kaibab Plateau landscape.
Using a geodatabase, researchers found that the maximum elevation extent of wildfires and the probability of wildfire occurrence above 3000 m have increased over the last century in the Sierra Nevada. This trend may accelerate vegetation shifts towards upper montane forest types in current subalpine systems.
Photo courtesy of Sasha Berleman
Two recent studies reviewed here, have addressed the question of what distance into fuel treatments fire needs to travel before fire severity is diminished.
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For desert shrubland species that have evolved without fire, the introduction of a grass-fire, positive feedback cycle is particularly problematic. This brief discusses work done by researchers who modeled the grass-fire cycle for non-fire-adapted desert shrublands under three sets of climate conditions.
Fire is a strong driver of changes in montane forest structure in California’s Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade mountain ranges, which provide much of the snowpack and associated water storage for the state of California. This paper investigates how fire can influence snowpack and water storage.
This research brief looks at changes in land cover, water, and forest health within the Illilouette Creek Basin in Yosemite National Park. This basin has a unique fire management history, with most areas burned in the last 40 years. Results suggest that fire has had a positive influence on a number of the Basin's ecosystem functions.
During normal levels of beetle activity, fuel treatment reductions either cause no trees to die from beetles or just a few. If tree deaths occur, they reinforce fuel hazard reduction and forest restoration goals.
Both Southern France and California have large amounts of housing in the Wildland Urban Interface where local vegetation is highly dense and fire adapted. This research brief compares the land use policies used to reduce the exposure of homes to wildfire in these two locations.
Study results from arid regions in Southern California show how fire trends differ based on unique sets of circumstances. This brief discuses how combinations of direct drivers (like powerline and roadside ignitions), indirect drivers (like invasive grasses, air pollution, and landscape fragmentation terrestrial intactness) and unknown factors cause diversity in fire trends.
Wildland firefighters suppressing wildland fires or conducting prescribed fires work long shifts and are exposed to high levels of smoke with no respiratory protection. This research measures firefighter exposure to smoke and pollutants and offers way to reduce this exposure.
In an era of concern over climate change, it's important to understand how different kinds of fire-adapted of ecosystems in California may respond to climate change in relation to fire. This study categorized Californian ecosystems into three types and discusses how each may be affected by climate change and fire.
The design and materials used in construction is critical to preventing structure loss during wildland urban interface (WUI) fires. This research helps planners and homeowners by ranking specific construction materials by fire safety effectiveness, then comparing their use to landscape-scale design attributes.
Overall, the results of this study add support to the existing theory that diverse fire increases biodiversity in certain ecosystems. Specifically, this study showed that higher diversity of fire severity patterns within a fire lead to more bird diversity, especially in the fire prone semi-arid forests of the Sierra Nevada.
Photo: Nine years after the Moonlight fire in Plumas county, California, the landscape shows remarkable resilience with a diversity of habitat structure and birds. Photo courtesy Morgan Tingley.
Five different Mediterranean Type Ecosystems (MTEs) around the world have evolutionarily converged in function with analogous vegetation types. With gorgeous photographic samplers to illustrate each type, we learn why these fire-adapted systems host more biodiversity than every other terrestrial ecosystem outside of the wet tropics.
Just like soil and climate, fire has been shaping plant communities in fire-prone ecosystems around the world for millions of years. The proof is in the evolution of fire-adapted plant traits, a common theme for the following two research papers.
Because the evidence for fire as an evolutionary force is so overwhelming, Pausas et al. (2016) conveniently organized fire-adapted plant species into three syndromes for better management. The resulting Non-Fast-Hot syndrome scheme shows how different plant species likely evolved to either resist or use three dimensions of flammability (ignitability, fire spread rate, and heat release) for higher fitness.
A comparison of two historical fire history data sets, the State of California Fire and Resource Protection (FRAP) database and a database based on annual state and federal written reports, found substantial differences between the two.
Site-scale sampling methodologies could be misleading, especially for arid, geographically heterogeneous, biodiversity hotspots. These authors (Taylor et al. 2012) use a landscape-scale methodology to examine one such habitat, 'tree mallee' that has similar fire and ecologic traits to central and southern semi-arid habitats like chaparral. In addition, this study shows that postfire age class heterogeneity doesn’t increase avian species richness in this semi-arid habitat with long fire return intervals.
The likely effects of drought associated with climate change in the United States have recently been synthesized by James M. Vose, James S. Clark, Charles H. Luce and Toral Patel-Weynand. Here we summarize their conclusions as they apply to drought and fire and provide examples of how these conditions are affecting different ecosystems in California.
The King Fire burned through an area used for a long-term (23 years) demography study of spotted owls in the central Sierra Nevada, allowing the authors to compare the number and distribution of owls both before and one year after the fire.
In Southern California, fuel treatment strategies often put fire risk reduction and biodiversity conservation goals at odds with each other. In response to this conflict, two of our briefs (Syphard et al. 2016; Butsic et al. 2016) explore a novel new approach.