Impacts of climate and management options on wildland fire fighting in Alaska: implications for operational costs and complexity under future scenarios - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program
Document Type: Report
Author(s): Courtney A. Schultz; Paul A. Duffy; Tait K. Rutherford; Randi R. Jandt; Nancy Fresco
Publication Year: 2019

Cataloging Information

  • AG - adaptive governance
  • boreal forest
  • climate change
  • fire management
  • public lands management
  • wildland fire
JFSP Project Number(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: October 16, 2019
FRAMES Record Number: 58762


Under projected patterns of climate change, models predict an increase in wildland fire activity in Alaska, which is likely to strain the capacity of the fire governance system under current arrangements. The Alaska wildland fire governance system consists of the actors, networks, and institutions, including policies and laws, that influence wildland fire management. This system is already adjusting to the effects of a changing climate, but future climate change presents significant uncertainties, with possible higher interannual variability for fire extent and severity that may necessitate new approaches to fire management. We investigated the future of fire in Alaska and possible management and other governance responses and challenges though interviews, interactive workshops, and iterative modeling of fire and vegetation dynamics under future climate and management scenarios utilizing the Alaska Frame-Based Ecosystem Code model(ALFRESCO).Cost projections were iteratively explored with fire managers based on current and anticipated management challenges and opportunities. To elaborate, we interviewed fire managers to understand perceptions of challenges and strategies in the governance system, specifically regarding anticipated changes to fire regimes as a result of climate change. We synthesized our interview data to help inform the creation of future fire management alternatives, which we discussed with fire managers in Alaska in workshops to refine management alternatives. We then used these alternatives to inform ALFRESCO to project fire regimes that correspond to different management alternatives. The results of this work suggest that the fire regime of the boreal forest of Alaska is moving towards a new equilibrium with higher average annual area burned and lower interannual variability. In addition, the boreal forest in Alaska is moving towards a state where fire-initiated secondary succession has a cumulative effect over the next several decades resulting in deciduous vegetation becoming dominant. While the timing of these effects varies among the combinations of climate change and management scenarios, none of the three management scenarios considered, which span the realm of plausible actions that could be taken by the fire management community, have an impact that changes the ultimate fate of the boreal forest. This modeling work suggests that at a landscape scale, the impacts of climate on the fire regime in Alaska are far greater than those that are, or could be, effected by fire management. Throughout this process, we worked iteratively with the fire management community, with the primary goal of understanding the implications of future management alternatives for fire regimes and whether changes to current management approaches or governance structures may be desirable. According to interviewees, the advantages of the current system include the strong relationships and communication among agencies, annual interagency meetings sponsored by the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordinating Group to discuss needed changes to fire management, collaborative arrangements among the agencies and local governments and stakeholders, and the agencies’ use of research and science to improve management. Our interview data shows that the fire governance system in Alaska is adaptive to change but faces some capacity limitations that may require changes in interagency policy, structure, or management goals. Based on the challenges and suggestions most commonly mentioned by interviewees, we recommend a focus on four key issues to address going forward: (1) budget processes and allocations; (2) staffing strategies to build capacity; (3) prioritization of values for protection and an assessment of legal and capacity challenges in meeting commitments; and (4) considerations of climate change adaptation and mitigation in fire management.

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Schultz, Courtney A.; Duffy, Paul A.; Rutherford, Tait K.; Jandt, Randi R.; Fresco, Nancy. 2019. Impacts of climate and management options on wildland fire fighting in Alaska: implications for operational costs and complexity under future scenarios - Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program. JFSP Project No. 16-1-01-18. Fort Collins, CO: Colorado State University. 48 p.