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Project ID: 15-2-01-63

Year: 2015

Date Started: 09/01/2015

Ending Date:  12/31/2017

Title: Impacts of vegetation feedbacks on fire regime regulation under future climate scenarios in Yellowst

Project Proposal Abstract: Changes in global temperature and moisture regimes may increase wildland fire due to increased frequency of weather conditions that promote wildfire. The Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem is no exception: using an empirical climate-fire-only relationship, fire rotation is projected to decrease from >100 to <30 years by the end of the 21st century. The absence of vegetation feedbacks in fire-climate-only models is believed to lead to inaccurate estimates of fire occurrence and area burned due to three fundamental assumptions. First, empirical models linking fire occurrence or area burned to climate assume the model relationship is stationary through time. Second, many models assume biomass fuels are sufficient to burn immediately after fire occurrence. Third, many past models assume the relationship between climate and vegetation flammability (i.e., live and dead fuel moisture content) is static regardless of vegetation and fuel characteristics. For the Yellowstone landscape, these assumptions disregard the fact that forests burned during the 20th century developed under a cooler, wetter climate cycle and were generally older than forests that might burn in a future climate. To expand on climate-fire-only modeling efforts, we plan to evaluate (1) how vegetation feedbacks regulate fire regimes under future climate scenarios in Yellowstone National Park, and (2) how projected changes in fire regimes differ between established climate-fire-only models and a climate-fire-vegetation succession model. The development of biomass after disturbance controls fuel type, load, and moisture content. These factors largely determine the energy budgets that control live and dead fuel moisture and fire occurrence, intensity, and severity. We hypothesize that under moderate climate years, fire occurrence and burned area will be restrained by the proportion of young forest stands across the landscape. Under extreme climate years, we hypothesize that fire will only be restrained by the proportion of the landscape that lacks sufficient fuels to support fire. Climate-fire models have been used extensively to project these fire attributes but the relationship varies with the ecoprovince of origin. We hypothesize that previously observed positive trends between area burned and warmer temperatures will be supported. But, we expect vegetation feedbacks to weaken the climate-fire relationship as area burned increases and younger vegetation cover begins to dominate the landscape. The proposed study will add new research to the findings of the existing chapters of Nelsons dissertation focused on the successional development of fuel loads and the interaction of fuels and fire weather. Chapter 1 addresses the observation that recent increases in annual area burned and fire frequency must lead to broader extents of young forests by completing a landscape-scale assessment of fuel loads 24 years post-fire in Yellowstone National Park. Chapter 2 validates a novel live fuel moisture model Nelson developed in 2013 and established surface fuel moisture models to improve estimates of fuel flammability. Chapter 3 investigates spatial and temporal patterns of fuel moisture during historic fire windows using the validated fuel moisture models and forest structure data. For the proposed fourth chapter, we plan to simulate climate-fire-vegetation feedbacks in Yellowstone over the next century to estimate changes in fire regime and vegetation structure. The Fire-BGC model will be used to simulate fuel accumulation after disturbance, the flammability of fuels using validated live and dead fuel moisture models, the probability of fire occurrence based on these factors, and include a wide range of climate change scenarios. This study will result in 1 peer-reviewed journal article, a chapter in Nelsons dissertation, and several presentations at national scientific and manager-oriented meetings.

Principal Investigator: Daniel B. Tinker

Agency/Organization: University of Wyoming

Branch or Dept: Department of Botany

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Dorothy C. Yates

University of Wyoming

Budget Contact

Dorothy C. Yates

University of Wyoming

Student Investigator

Kellen N. Nelson

Desert Research Institute

Division of Atmospheric Sciences (DAS)

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Northern Rockies

Southern Rockies






Interior West


Project Deliverables

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Supporting Documents

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