Land management strategies for confronting risks and consequences of wildfire (with Sarah Anderson, Ryan Bart, William Burke, Maureen Kennedy, Max Moritz, Andrew Plantinga, Christina Tague, and Ethan Turpin)
As part of the first UCSB Bren School Strategic Environmental Research Initiative (SERI), I am involved in a multi-year collaborative project with a team of natural and social scientists to investigate land management strategies that will reduce the risk and the impacts of wildfires. Federal and state agencies apply fuel treatment techniques such as thinning and controlled burns that often generate unintended consequences for humans and ecosystems because neither the agencies nor the research community fully understand the interactions among fire, vegetation, and ecosystem services. Furthermore, agency decision makers may make decisions about fuel treatments on the basis of public attention, economic considerations, and political dynamics. This research combines an analysis of agency decision making with an understanding of the consequences of fuel treatment for fire risk, water provision, wildlife habitat, and carbon storage. In addition, there are a series of meetings with land managers to ensure that the research helps land managers to improve the management of wildfire in the public lands that border urban areas.
This project involves an integrated model of fuel treatment decision making, fire risk, and watershed ecology and hydrology. The model combines empirical analysis of agency decision making with a stochastic model of fire spread and the Region Hydro-Ecologic Simulation System (RHESSys), a spatially distributed mechanistic model of ecosystem growth and hydrology. The research team uses the model to analyze the impact of fuel treatment decisions and prescribes optimal fuel treatment strategies according to criteria that reflect interactions among climate, vegetation, hydrology, and land management actions. The team uses a series of stakeholder meetings to obtain land manager input in the development of these criteria. The project includes testing the integrated model at Critical Zone Observatory sites in New Mexico and the southern Sierra and at a Long-Term Ecological Research site in Santa Barbara. The team uses state-of-the art computing to develop integrated modeling tools, workflows, documentation, and visualization that support the use of the model by a broader research community and its integration into larger scale earth system models. The work directly facilitates sustainability by helping land managers to optimize fuel treatment strategies for their watersheds to reduce the risks, the frequency, the severity, and the costs of wildfires and support other watershed-scale ecosystem services such as water provision, habitat and carbon sequestration.