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Project ID: 16-3-01-14

Year: 2016

Date Started: 10/01/2016

Ending Date:  09/30/2019

Title: Resilient landscapes and fire regimes: Meaning, metrics, and management

Project Proposal Abstract: The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy (hereafter: Cohesive Strategy) mandates the restoration and maintenance of landscapes, with the goal that landscapes across all jurisdictions are resilient to fire-related disturbances in accordance with management objectives. This policy includes using wildland fire to improve ecological resilience, but because the term resilience is ambiguous, difficult to measure, and rarely quantified, there are no clear, consistent methods for translating resilience policy into resilience management. Resilience may be a concept that managers and policy makers can understand in a general sense, but how can this concept be operationalized to guide ecosystem management in practice? There is a lack of guidelines for translating resilience theory into operational management actions, particularly in the context of fire management and current socio-political frameworks. As one of the most influential disturbance agent in western US landscapes, wildfire is central to the development of resilence-focused management strategies; yet the complex nature of fire across climate gradients, fuel types, fire regimes, and management history resists any simple definitions of what resilience ecosystems look like, when they are vulnerable to change, and how fire-driven changes in landscapes may be. A coherent assessement of resilience, grounded in meaning and metrics that are central to fire ecology and fire management, is needed to guide management actions due to the strong link between resilience and sustainability. We identify four reasons for the ambiguity surrounding resilience and the challenge of translating its concepts into concrete management guidance specific to wildland fire: ecological context, biological organization, rapid contemporary change, and social and political systems. An important component of resilience involves the capacity of humans to adjust governance and management to implement new solutions. Balancing the risks, benefits, and uncertainties of ecological restoration entails prioritizing and manipulating specific resources to achieve desired outcomes, a challenging triage with implications for the economic and social values affected by the interventions. Ultimately, ecological restoration is based on public interest decisions that reflect the priorities and values of land managers and society. Policy directly affects management options and feasibility through transformative and incremental change. Large-scale policy directives such as the Cohesive Strategy call for transformative change in how the US manages fire, while local-to-national level legislation generally works through incremental changes in land management. This dilemma is exemplified in Forest Plan revisions under the 2012 National Forest System Land Management Planning Rule, which directs National Forests to manage for resilience but provides little concrete guidance regarding what this is or how it can be accomplished. Our primary goals are to 1) refine a suite of definitions of resilience based on its component processes that are appropriate and contextual for fire-prone and fire-adapted systems and integrate ecological and social resilience concepts; 2) develop a system for assessing resilience that identifies and ranks vulnerable ecosystem components and measurable indicators of resistance or change; and 3) Implement the Resilience Assessment in three case study areas as a proof-of-concept, focusing on one area each with low, mixed, and high severity fire regimes as a demonstration of the importance of accounting for ecological context, biological organization, contemporary and regional-scale climate stressors, and social-political systems in assessing and operationalizing resilience of fire-prone landscapes.

Principal Investigator: Sharon M. Hood

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Fire Sciences Lab-Missoula

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Budget Contact

Cindy D. Gordon

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Donald A. Falk

University of Arizona-Tucson

School of Natural Resources & the Environment

Co-Principal Investigator

Beth A. Hahn

Forest Service

Region 1-Northern Region Watershed

Co-Principal Investigator

Rachel A. Loehman

USGS-Geological Survey

ASC-Alaska Science Center

Co-Principal Investigator

Martin A. Nie

University of Montana

College of Forestry & Conservation

Co-Principal Investigator

Jonathan A. O’Donnell

NPS-National Park Service

Alaska Regional Office-Anchorage

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network


Northern Rockies









Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
There are no deliverables available for this project.

Supporting Documents

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