Articles on forest fire risks published in BioScience

07/02/04

Expert assessments suggest improved management strategies

Two articles published in the July 2004 issue of BioScience, the journal of the American Institute of Biological Sciences (AIBS), provide new assessments of US forest fire dangers and propose improved ways to reduce the risk of spread.

"The Interaction of Fire, Fuels, and Climate across Rocky Mountain Forests," by Tania Schoennagel and Thomas T. Veblen of the University of Colorado and William H. Romme of Colorado State University, criticizes the view that decades of fire suppression have promoted unnaturally-large accumulations of fuel, and that these have fed unprecedentedly large, severe wildfires across Western forests. This philosophy, which grew mainly out of studies in ponderosa pine forests, is embodied in the US administration's Healthy Forests Initiative. But the BioScience authors' studies of fire types lead them to believe that the philosophy is being applied uncritically, including in places where it is inappropriate. Fuel types and amounts have less influence over the spread of fire in high-elevation (subalpine) forests than in low-elevation forests, for example. Climate has relatively more influence on spread of fire in subalpine forests. The authors, noting that previous fire suppression had only a minimal effect on the large Yellowstone fires of 1988, judge that "any recent increases in area burned in subalpine forests are probably not attributable to fire suppression." Schoennagel, Veblen and Romme conclude that a "one size fits all" approach to reducing wildfire hazards in the Rocky Mountain region is unlikely to be effective and could create new problems.

In "Effects of Invasive Alien Plants on Fire Regimes," Matthew L. Brooks of the US Geological Survey and his co-authors note that invasive plants can dramatically alter the susceptibility of a forest to fire. Previous assessments have concentrated on grass invasions that can provide fuel, but Brooks and colleagues examine numerous additional ways that invasions can affect fire susceptibility and note that many of them are not widely recognized. Invaders can both increase and decrease flammability in a forest and can influence both vertical and horizontal fire spread. The authors propose a scheme for evaluating the dangers of invasive plants from the standpoint of fire risk and propose directions for future research.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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