Forest ThreatNet

Volume 11, Issue 1 - January/February 2017

Center Science Supports Station-Wide Research Response to 2016 Fall Wildfires

Researchers_tour_GSMNP.jpgIn the wake of the epic 2016 fall fire season in the Southeast, Southern Research Station (SRS) scientists are part of a growing movement to study the impacts of the wildfires on forest structure and mortality. The SRS research response focuses on the Southern Appalachians and crosses multiple topics and research units across the Station, including the Eastern Threat Center. Center scientists who monitor vegetation change through time with satellite-based data and imagery available through the ForWarn system are examining the footprint of the wildfires compared to past fires and fuels treatments. They are also using a range of other imagery sources in an effort to better understand fire effects. Center research ecologist Steve Norman, who recently joined other SRS scientists in a field tour of burned sites in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, says, "The fall 2016 fire season was surprising on many fronts--from the extreme fire behavior in the Park to the high number of large long-duration fires. We SRS scientists and our collaborators are determined to provide managers and the area’s residents the science they are looking for." In addition to the Eastern Threat Center's contribution to the project, SRS researchers are studying the wildfires' impacts on wildlife habitat and ecology, forest fuels, water flow and quality, and more. Findings will assist land managers who may be faced with changing wildfire regimes in the future. "Until now, fall fires had been less common than the wildfires and prescribed fires of spring, but more fall drought could force a shift toward a predominantly fall fire season. We still don’t understand that much about how fires behave at this time of year and the risks to communities and our forests," says Norman.

Pictured: Great Smoky Mountains National Park fire ecologist Rob Klein and SRS scientists Joe O'Brien, Kitty Elliott, and Katie Greenberg examine fire effects in the Park, which experienced some of the most severe fire in fall 2016. Photo by Louise Loudermilk, U.S. Forest Service. 

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