Integrating Hydrological Effects of Wildland Fire into Strategic Landscape Planning

Friday, 19 December 2014: 4:15 PM
Steven P Norman and Danny C Lee, USDA Forest Service, Eastern Threat Assessment Center, Asheville, NC, United States
Much of the United States faces growing risks from wildfire. Collectively and individually, these wildfires can profoundly affect water flow and quality both within and downstream of the areas burned. Given their extent and tendency to have large severe patch sizes, megafires can have substantial watershed effects that include areas with slow or improbable recovery. Management efforts to engineer community resilience through restoring fire or other broad scale fuels treatments can also affect flow regimes. Restoration efforts often include thinning uncharacteristically high stand densities, creating heterogeneous structural patterns, or shifting species composition towards more fire-tolerant and often more drought-tolerant species. The strategic intent is to increase landscape resilience even as wildfire or climate regimes worsen. Prioritization efforts that affect how landscapes are managed also balance the needs of human communities, including municipal water supplies, while reducing the societal costs of wildfire response. Thus, the overall effects of wildfire represent a combined, synergistic interaction of the wildfires and management actions taken to mitigate their potential effects. Strategic plans such as the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy and individual State Forest Action Plans provide forums for assessing system-wide interactions of fire and water, but implementation is challenging. This talk presents the strategic thinking behind existing efforts, outlines how water-associated tradeoffs can be integrated, and illustrates the utility of existing hydrological, climate and vegetation datasets and models to establish scenarios and directional likelihoods that illuminate planning options.