Rapid scientific assessment of mid-scale fire regime conditions in the western US
Document Type: Report
Author(s): Ayn Shlisky
Publication Year: 2003

Cataloging Information

  • FRCC - Fire Regime Condition Class
  • NIFTT - National Interagency Fuels Technology Transfer
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: December 13, 2016
FRAMES Record Number: 751


Altered fire regimes pose great threats to biodiversity. Fire managers recognize the need to reduce hazardous fuel loads, restore sustainable fire regimes and ecosystems, and decrease the threat of catastrophic wildfires to community values. The United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service recently provided national-level, coarse resolution data (1 km2) on the degree and nature of departure of current vegetation and fuels from historic conditions. These coarse-scale fire regime condition class (FRCC) data represent a significant leap forward in the integration and mapping of biophysical, vegetation, and fuel characterization data for the purposes of gaining an ecologically-based perspective on national priorities for resource allocation for fire regime restoration, fuels treatment, and biodiversity conservation. Using this data, The Nature Conservancy (TNC) found that at least 43% of priority conservation area identified to-date in the US is moderately to severely at risk of significant degradation due to fire exclusion, the threat of unnaturally severe wildfires, introduction of exotics, or other past management activities. Fire exclusion was cited as a major threat in 43% of TNC conservation area plans and human-induced wildfire was cited as a threat in an additional 13% (unpubl. data). Such assessments are key to determining priorities for fire regime restoration and biodiversity conservation. However, the current coarse scale data has been misused for region- and project-level prioritization and planning. Currently available FRCC data only addresses prioritization nationally between larger regions and groups of states and not projects. Finer scale FRCC data is being developed through the LANDFIRE project using remote sensing and gradient modeling, but it is only in a prototype stage that will not lead to completion of the contiguous lower 48 states until 2008-2010. Using examples from a pilot assessment conducted for northern New Mexico (U.S.), we describe a novel approach for rapidly developing mid-scale spatial fire regime condition class data at scales appropriate for multi-area planning, assessment of potential long-term effects of alternative conservation strategies, prioritization of projects, development of fire management plans, and revision and amendment of agency forest and resource land management plans. The process uses existing spatial and remotely sensed data and quantitative state-transition models to provide fire regime condition class (FRCC) maps by potential vegetation type. Immediate availability of interim continuous spatial FRCC and associated data will accelerate coordination of the tasks of biodiversity restoration and fire hazard reduction across multi-ownership landscapes. Consistent, science-based measures of opportunities and risks across all land ownerships are a prerequisite for successful collaborative, multi-partner watershed-scale fire planning.

Shlisky, Ann and Wendel Hann. 2003. Rapid Scientific Assessment of Mid-Scale Fire Regime Conditions in the Western U.S. In Press: Proceedings of the 3rd International Wildand Fire Conference, October 3-6, 2003. Sydney, Australia.

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