University researchers study widfire

Researchers Receive More Than $1 Million  

Researchers in the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation recently earned more than $1 million in funding from the Joint Fire Science Program through five separate awards involving faculty from all three departments in the college.

Forest ecology Associate Professor Andrew Larson is principal investigator of a project to look at how wildfires shape vegetation and fuels in the forests of north-central Washington. His project proposal titled “Landscape Evaluations and Prescriptions for Post-Fire Landscapes” was awarded $384,000. Larson says he and co-investigators will “develop an integrated framework for assessing post-fire landscapes that helps managers identify how and where fires achieved management objectives, or not.”

Natural resource policy Professor Martin Nie is a co-principal investigator along with Sharon Hood, UM alumna and research ecologist at the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, on a project that was awarded $377,000. Nie, together with a graduate student, will examine how fire management decisions can be more effectively integrated into national forest plan revisions and, more broadly, examine the meaning, metrics and management of resilient landscapes and fire regimes.

 Fire ecology Associate Professor Philip Higuera is the principal investigator of two projects: one awarded $355,000 to examine how climate variability impacts tree regeneration in low-elevation forests in the Northern Rockies and the other awarded $290,000 to study the ecological and social impacts of wildfires.

 Forest landscape ecology Associate Professor Solomon Dobrowski, UM postdoctoral scientist Kim Taylor and UM alumnus Sean Parks, now a research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, are co-principal investigators on Higuera’s first project titled “Climate Variability and Post-Fire Forest Regeneration in the Northern Rockies.” 

Higuera and co-investigators will use tree rings to examine at how ponderosa pine and Douglas fir regenerated after past fires. They will create a model that can help managers predict when and where those trees will re-populate burned forests in the future.

 “This work is important because it will help us understand how wildfires and climate change will interact to determine if, when, and where lower-treeline forests will regenerate in the future,” Higuera said.

UM Research Assistant Professor Alex Metcalf and recreation management and human dimensions of natural resources Assistant Professor Libby Metcalf are co-principal investigators on Higuera’s second project titled “Identifying Ecological and Social Resilience in Fire-Prone Landscapes,” and will investigate communities in the Northern Rockies and Pacific Northwest that have been impacted by large fires to see how they adapt to their post-fire landscape. Additional collaborators include Carol Miller from the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station and Dave McWethy from Montana State University.

Additionally, Larson is co-principal investigator on a $278,000 award with University of Washington Research Associate Van Kane and principal investigator Utah State University Assistant Professor James Lutz to research tree mortality after wildfire. Trees growing in crowded, high-stress environments are known to have higher probability of mortality, but current models of fire-caused tree mortality do not include local crowding.

“One of our key goals is to validate existing models of post-fire tree mortality, in order to determine how much improvement is possible if we include information about local crowding,” Larson said.

Researchers in the University of Montana College of Forestry and Conservation earned more than $1 million in funding from the Joint Fire Science Program.

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