Forest ThreatNet

Volume 7, Issue 1 - January/February 2014

Western Threat Center Highlights

Scientists Characterize Burn Severity to Aid Post-Fire Recovery

Pole Creek FireThe most common approach to characterize burn severity across large landscapes is to use remotely sensed data, satellite imagery, or LiDAR technology (which uses lasers to measure distance in order to create high resolution maps), from before and after a fire burns. However, these methods can be limited in dense forest stands because of their inability to see the impact of fire on all levels of vegetation. The Western Threat Center supported post-fire LiDAR flights and field data collection to assess whether remotely sensed data accurately predicts burn severity in the Pole Creek Fire on the Deschutes National Forest. Understanding the accuracy of remotely sensed burn severity will aid in planning post-fire recovery efforts.

For more information, contact Nicole Vaillant (Western Threat Center) at

Post-fire landscape, Deschutes National Forest, Oregon - Photo by USDA Forest Service


How Vulnerable are Greater Sage-Grouse and Their Habitat?

greater_sagegrouse_TSpivey.jpgConcern is growing for greater sage-grouse (Centrocerus urophasianus) and their habitat. The Western Threat Center is providing support for a team from the Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station and Intermountain Region to conduct an assessment of suitable sagebrush sagegrouse_study_area.jpghabitat, greater sage-grouse, and their stressors in the Central Basin and Range, Wasatch and Uinta Mountains and Colorado Plateau ecoregions of Nevada and Utah. Specific emphasis will be directed toward the upland, more mesic (moist) landscapes administered by the Forest Service where key issues include habitat fragmentation (and associated greater sage-grouse population isolation), tree encroachment, impacts of flammable weed expansion, changing fire regimes and climate change. The team is using available knowledge and data sets and modeling to explore variation in the spatial distribution of suitable habitat through time (past, present and future) in order to provide context for interpreting current and anticipated future risks. The team will also organize one or more manager’s workshops to increase grassroots input with the goal of improving applicability of final products to management and planning activities.

For more information, contact Stanley Kitchen (Rocky Mountain Research Station) at

Left: Greater sage-grouse - Photo by Terry Spivey Photography,

Right: Current sage-grouse and habitat distributions in the proposed study area. Click to enlarge.


Researchers Link Beetle Attacks and Fuel Changes

Dense forests and drier climate conditions have facilitated a widespread outbreak of the mountain pine beetle, a bark beetle native to western North America. Fire and fuel managers need up-to-date information regarding the location and nature of beetle attacks because beetle attacks can substantially alter fuel conditions, which can increase risks to firefighters and communities in affected areas.

U.S. Forest Service personnel have hand-mapped beetle attacks from aircraft for many years, but the extent of the land area makes it difficult to comprehensively map all areas each year, and differences between observers can also complicate analysis. To resolve this, the Western Threat Center is providing support for researchers from the Rocky Mountain Research Station and University of Montana to develop a system to map the progression of beetle attacks over time using MODIS satellite imagery and field-measured fuel changes (below). They developed and tested a system to apply the field-measured fuel changes to fuels maps used for modeling fire behavior.


Maps show the progression of beetle attacks in 2001, 2005, and 2009. Click to enlarge.


 Satellite imagery provided consistent and geographically comprehensive maps of beetle attacks over time, which compared favorably with field-measured data. Fuel changes associated with beetle attacks were found to vary depending on time since attack. Comparisons of fire behavior using fuel maps with and without beetle-induced fuel changes over time (below) suggested significant increases in predicted fire behavior with beetle-induced fuel changes.



Images show comparisons of fire behavior using fuel maps with and without beetle-induced fuel changes over time. Click to enlarge.




 Beetle effects on fuels and fire behavior are an area of active research. As this work advances, it has potential to be integrated with current fire and fuel management and future planning and to be extended to other geographic regions.

For more information, contact Russ Parsons (Rocky Mountain Research Station) at or Matt Jolly (Rocky Mountain Research Station) at


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