Linking Field-Based and Experimental Methods to Quantify, Predict, and Manage Fire Effects on Cultural Resources
Principal Investigator(s):
Co-Principal Investigator(s):
  • Vincent Archer
    US Forest Service, Lewis and Clark National Forest
  • Bret W. Butler
    US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire, Fuel, and Smoke Science Program
  • Jamie A. Civitello
  • Jennifer B. Dyer
    US Forest Service, Santa Fe National Forest
  • Alexander M. Evans
    Forest Stewards Guild
  • Rory P. Gauthier
    National Park Service
  • James J. Reardon
    US Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory
  • Anastasia X. Steffen
  • Edith M. Cates
    US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
  • Cindy D. Gordon
    US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
Completion Date: November 2, 2016

Cataloging Information

  • archeological sites
  • cultural resources
  • fire severity
  • Jemez Mountains
  • laboratory experiments
  • Las Conchas Fire
Partner Site(s):
JFSP Project Number(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: August 13, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 14476


Uncharacteristically severe wildfires can threaten cultural resources through direct effects that are obvious and immediate, such as destruction of structures; or that may be harder to recognize, such as thermal alteration of surface materials. Indirect effects of wildfires, and most notably erosion, may also occur, resulting in the most dramatic events in the wholesale destruction or relocation of cultural resources. Fuel treatments have been shown to reduce fire severity, but effectiveness of risk mitigation operations is constrained by lack of information in three areas: 1) range of fire effects on cultural resources, 2) quantification of the magnitude and duration of heating that results in permanent damage, and 3) linkage between fire effects and operational fire models. We have designed a project to integrate cultural resources information into fire management decision processes. Our objectives are to provide guidelines for best management practices for cultural resources in fire-prone landscapes. We focus this project in the Jemez Mountain region of northern New Mexico, an ideal study area because of its high density of important sites and artifacts located within fire-prone forests. The Las Conchas Fire of 2011 highlighted the potential negative impacts of wildfire on archeology and active cultural sites, but also provides unique research opportunities to study a wide range of forest and fuel types; numerous types and configurations of cultural sites; and a range of burn severities. Our project is designed as a collaborative effort among fire scientists, forest ecologists, earth scientists, archaeologists, and fire managers and has three components: 1) laboratory experiments to replicate variable burn environments and the direct effects of fire exposure on three classes of archaeological materials (obsidian artifacts, ceramic artifacts, and architectural stone); 2) field-based examination of post-fire effects from the recent Las Conchas fire; and 3) knowledge synthesis and science delivery. Laboratory experiments will characterize damage from heating intensity and duration in a set of controlled experiments to be conducted at the large burn chamber and wind tunnel facilities at the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station Fire Lab, Missoula, MT. Field data collection will characterize the range of environmental conditions in the study region, including topographic setting, vegetation type, fuel loading, fire severity class, and repeat burning. This will provide a broadly representative archaeological and environmental context to inform our laboratory experiments and analysis. In addition, field sampling will allow us to acquire and test artifacts across a known gradient of vegetation types and fire severity classes and to develop a post-fire erosion vulnerability model.The knowledge synthesis will complement the laboratory and field work at all stages of the project. We will convene an advisory team of cultural resource and fire managers to conduct needs assessment surveys to clarify information needs and knowledge gaps. The knowledge synthesis will build on existing materials, but will present an applied management perspective, and incorporate additional sources on cultural resources fire effects and fire management that currently reside in unpublished form in numerous archives within federal and state agencies. Other science delivery products include field-ready reference cards for identifying damages associated with varying fuel and fire situations and a Manager Workshop that will provide a venue for fire managers and archaeologists to interact, share information, and develop a common understanding of resource management methods and priorities.