In the western US, climate change and a century of fire suppression have led to rapid increases in the size and severity of forest fires. Managers and policy makers are responsible for safeguarding people, livelihoods, property, and natural resources. This includes managing fire and fuels, monitoring air quality, conserving biodiversity, and tracking the land’s ability to sequester carbon.
While unprecedented federal, state, and private resources are available to address the fire crisis – the scope of the problem is so vast that spending must be targeted to ensure multiple goals are met using the best science. Logistical barriers continue to constrain implementation, however, we also still do not know how solutions scale today nor how future climate change will shape outcomes. Effective coordinated strategies will rely on understanding where, when, how, and why ecosystems and fire regimes are changing now and will change in coming decades.
By partnering with the fire-management and policy community, we will co-create and implement a research program that ensures the predictive science of fire ecology and forest resilience is sufficiently mature to support effective strategies to the fire crisis.
- Identify the mechanisms that underpin forest resilience with experiments and field work. Broad-scale change will emerge from drivers acting on many fine-scale processes like postfire tree regeneration.
- Track the changing nature of forest conditions and fire regimes in the western US using legacy and state-of-the-art remote sensing platforms. During an era of unprecedented investment in proactive forest management, this will allow us to precisely measure progress.
- Understand how current actions shape future ecosystems by feeding remote sensing data into forest models that operate at landscape to continental scales. This will provide more accurate projections of our long-term outlook.
- Quantify consequences for ecosystem services essential to human wellbeing and economies. This includes biodiversity, air quality, carbon storage, and water. Secure provision of ecosystem services during a time of profound change will only occur with improved ecological understanding.
- Build a community of practice that ensures the research agenda is responsive to decision-maker needs and that the best available science guides decision making and adaptation.