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Project ID: 16-1-01-21

Year: 2016

Date Started: 09/01/2016

Ending Date:  01/30/2020

Title: Ecosystem Change in the Blue Mountains Ecoregion: Exotic Invaders, Shifts in Fuel Structure, and Management Implications

Project Proposal Abstract: Exotic plant invasions are a growing challenge to the management of native biodiversity, ecosystem functioning, fuels, wildfire and range management. The effects of exotic invaders are particularly dramatic when they alter disturbance regimes beyond the range of variation to which native species are adapted, resulting in community shifts and ecosystem transformations. Exotic annual grasses that alter fire regimes are recognized as some of the most important ecosystem-altering species on the planet. Grasses such as cheatgrass and medusahead are having a negative impact on millions of hectares across the Great Basin by fundamentally altering the ecosystems they invade. A similar threat is developing in the forestlands of the interior Pacific Northwest region with a relatively new invasive annual grass, Ventenata dubia (ventenata or North Africa grass). Unlike cheatgrass, ventenata thrives at higher elevations, threatening native forest biodiversity and creating ecosystem-level changes. Recent engagement with managers has revealed that ventenata is a primary species of concern in many areas of the Blue Mountains Ecoregion (BME) of the Pacific Northwest. Of particular concern is ventenatas ability to create novel landscape conditions and alter fire behavior. Forestland managers note that ventenata is a game changer largely because of the species ecosystem-level transformation potential. Fire and fuels resource managers working the 2015 fires in the BME expressed concern regarding novel fire behavior, particularly in open meadows and scablands interspersed within the forest matrix. These open areas occur throughout the BME and are often used as wildland fire breaks and firefighter safe sites because fire does not carry through them well due to the presence of small statured species and interspaces of shallow soils. However, ventenata invasion is dramatically changing these areas, creating flashy fuel beds prone to swiftly carrying fire. The spatial arrangement of fuels across the landscape is a major driver of wildland fire behavior. In the 2015 fires, firefighters witnessed uncharacteristic rapid fire spread fueled by these dry grasses. Forest and fire managers lack critical information as to how ventenata is altering fuels and fire regimes, the implications this has for fuels treatments programs, and which post-fire management strategies may be effective in mitigating impacts in the context of changing fire regimes and climate. We are proposing landscape scale research focused on the BME (all lands, including four national forests) to examine the extent of ventenata invasion and associated ecosystem change. We will examine how fuels, fire regimes, and fire effects might shift across the region, and how these changes might affect management. We will depict alternative scenarios of ecosystem change associated with future climate change and management actions.

Principal Investigator: Becky K. Kerns

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: PNW-Forestry Sciences Lab-Corvallis

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Vi T. Ta

Forest Service

PNW-Pacific Northwest Research Station

Budget Contact

Phillip A. Won

Forest Service

PNW-Pacific Northwest Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

John B. Kim

Forest Service

PNW-Forestry Sciences Lab-Corvallis

Co-Principal Investigator

Meg A. Krawchuk

Oregon State University

Department of Forest Ecosystems & Society

Co-Principal Investigator

Bridgett J. Naylor

Forest Service

PNW-TCM-Threat Characterization & Management-LaGrande

Co-Principal Investigator

Nicole M. Vaillant

Forest Service

PNW-Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Ctr

Co-Principal Investigator

Harold S. Zald

Humboldt State University

Department of Forestry & Wildland Resources

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network







Pacific Coast States


Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
  ID Type Title
  go to website 7869 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Ecosystem Change in the Blue Mountains Ecoregion: Exotic Invaders, Shifts in Fuel Structure, and Man

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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