Category Archives: Natural Resource Management

Check it out: Is climate change or forest management causing megafires?

By Sonia A. Hall

Mountainous landscape with smoke billowing up from wildfires

The Bobcat Fire, one of 2020’s megafires that resurfaces the question of whether forest management or climate change is driving these fires.

In response to the recent—and in California, ongoing—megafires, many have been asking whether the cause is climate change or forest management. Erin Hanan wrote a blog article arguing that this is not the right question, because in many cases both contribute to what is happening. The drivers of fire activity are complex, and the relative importance of these different drivers varies from one location and ecosystem to another.

Check out Hanan’s article to explore the five key things we need to know about the causes of the current wildfire problem. Understanding these five things can help us navigate the question of what is driving increased fire activity and, most importantly, can help us determine what can be done to reduce such large fires in the future.

Forest Insects and Disease – Watching for Weirdness

By Chris Schnepf

Close up of a sapling with sporulating blister rust

Blister rust has to have very high humidity to successfully infect white pine needles. Photo: John Schwandt.

When it comes to climate change, many people focus on raw physics: how much more precipitation or less, the number of frost free days, how many days a year above or below certain temperatures, the length of the fire season, etc. These dimensions are all important to reflect on and study, but it may be that some of the most significant climate change effects could be things we can’t even imagine – what some people might refer to as “global weirding.”  Continue reading

The Need for Flexibility when Managing Grazing

Matthew C. Reeves, U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station

Grassy, green hillslope with some shrubs scattered around

Forage variability is expected to increase even further in the future, enhancing the need for flexibility in managing grazing on rangelands in the Pacific Northwest. Photo: Darrell Kilgore.

The amount of annual net primary production on rangelands forms the forage base upon which livelihoods and billions of dollars of commerce depend. Land managers and livestock producers in the Pacific Northwest deal with high year-to-year variations in net primary production, which often varies 40% between years due to changes in the amount of precipitation from one year to the next. And in the future, it is widely expected that climate change will lead to further increases in year-to-year variability, creating both challenges and opportunities for ranchers in the region. We therefore need to understand the longer-term changes in how net primary production and resulting forage production will vary, so we can explore new options that provide increased flexibility to ranchers and managers. Continue reading

Rangeland Fire Protection Associations – An Important Tool, Now and in the Future

Emily Jane Davis, Assistant Professor and Extension Specialist, Oregon State University Extension, & Sonia A. Hall, Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University

Cheatgrass seedheads in the foreground, mixed with medusahead spikes.

Annual invasive grasses like cheatgrass, here appearing with a typical reddish tint, increase fuel loads and favor bigger fires, especially as the climate changes. Photo: Darrell Kilgore.

Wildfires in rangeland systems across the western United States, including the intermountain Northwest, are not going away. If anything, research and climate change modeling suggest that wildfire activity will continue to increase (Abatzoglou and Kolden 2011), and conditions support expansion of the annual invasive grasses, like cheatgrass, that increase fuel loads and favor bigger fires (Bradley et al. 2016). Yet wildfires are already an issue in these rangelands systems, for ranchers, natural resource managers, and conservationists worried about species like Greater sage grouse. So, tools that are helping make a difference now can become the path forward for addressing these issues in the future as well.

Wildfire impacts cross ownership boundaries, and ranchers are often closest to fires when they start. In the sagebrush steppe landscapes of eastern Oregon and Idaho, growing numbers of ranchers participate in Rangeland Fire Protection Associations (RFPAs) to help minimize these impacts. Continue reading

Community Learning and Social Resilience – An Example of its Importance

By James Ekins, Ph.D., University of Idaho Extension

Citizen science workshop participants learning to collect water quality data in a gentle stream.

IDAH2O citizen scientists learning how to collect good stream data. Participants return home with a more sophisticated understanding of stream processes and are better prepared to explain stream health to neighbors and elected representatives, contributing to community learning. Photo: James Ekins.

Understanding and managing natural resources and agricultural processes are complex tasks, especially in a rapidly changing world. Community resilience has been described as the “existence, development, and engagement of community resources by community members to thrive in an environment characterized by change, uncertainty, unpredictability and surprise (Magis 2010).” One important ingredient for achieving community resilience is community learning, the idea that groups of people build and share norms, values, beliefs, and understandings of the world around them. Overall, the better a community communicates, the greater its ability to develop values and norms that lead to adaptive capacity (the ability of people to engage in activities that influence resilience). Different ways of knowing enable different capacities; communities assemble knowledge from multiple sources, along with local (place-based) cultural adaptations, to adapt to change.

As an Extension educator, I wonder how social learning increases a community’s capacity to react and adapt to socio-ecological change. Are we as non-formal educators making a difference? Are our communities more resilient with long term educational processes like multistakeholder collaborative groups, field tours, and public education workshops? How do they result in a community that is better connected, with a broader base of knowledge and common understanding to draw from? Continue reading

Announcement: Restoring the Narrative – Wildfires of Eastern Washington

Join WSU Extension Forester Sean Alexander, US Forest Service research scientist Dr. Paul Hessburg, author of the acclaimed TED Talk Living (Dangerously) in the Era of Megafires, and Dept. of Natural Resources wildfire protection specialist Guy Gifford (DNR) to discuss the history of fire on the landscape, how it shaped our forests, what we are doing today to manage these forests, and what landowners on the dry Eastern side of the state can do to protect their homes and resources.

Tuesday, July 21st 6:30 pm

Register Here  (https://bit.ly/2OkWzU7)

Firefighter in an open, meadow-like area, looking towards trees and a fire truck surrounded by smoke, with flames close to the ground in places

A prescribed burn project near Leavenworth, Washington in May 2020. Photo: Sean Alexander

Source Contact

Sean M. Alexander, Extension Forester – NE, Washington State University

Email: sean.alexander@wsu.edu. Phone: (509) 680-0358 (cell).

Check it out: Engagement as a Path Towards Greater Resilience to Climate Change

By Sonia A. Hall

Two people on horseback rounding up cattle

Our most recently published case study on resilience to climate change describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho.

Over the last few years at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources we have developed a range of case studies highlighting individual farmers and ranchers in the Pacific Northwest that are implementing practices or strategies that provide ecological and economic benefits now in addition to increasing resilience to climate change. We’ve discussed some of these case studies in previous AgClimate articles (see those on the use of stripper headers and precision nitrogen). Our most recent series is the Rancher-to-Rancher series, which explores innovative approaches three Pacific Northwest ranchers are using that increase their resilience in the face of a changing climate. Though each case study is specific to the conditions of the particular rancher being profiled, insights and strategies from each case study may be applicable elsewhere.

Check out the most recently published case study, that describes Brenda and Tony Richards’ family cow-calf operation in Murphy, Idaho. Continue reading

The Lasting Impacts of Wildfire

Re-posted from Water Current News, WSU Extension

Hillsolope with trees in the foreground, and rockier slopes with a forested patch in the background

The Entiat Experimental Forest 40 years after a wildfire. Photo Marketa McGuire.

In 1970, when a large lightening caused wildfire started in the Entiat Experimental Forest in north-central Washington, researchers had already collected 12 years of baseline data on three watersheds. Weather and streamflow (including quantity, quality, and timing of water discharge) had all been recorded. This provided a unique opportunity to study the long-term effects of post-fire recovery efforts on hydrology.

Decades after the fire occurred, Ryan Niemeyer, an adjunct professor in Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, along with his colleagues Kevin Bladon and Rick Woodsmith, began examining the long-term impacts the fire had on the hydrologic system. His findings, recently published in the journal Hydrological Processes, reveal that fire can affect annual stream discharge, peak flows, low flows, and evapotranspiration even 40 years after the burn. Continue reading

Check it out: New Studies in the Region Discuss Wildfires in the Future and How Fuel Treatments May Affect Them

By Sonia A. Hall

Fire burning up a shrub steppe slope, with a conifer tree in the foreground

The lightning-sparked Carlton Complex Fire in July was the largest in the state’s recorded history, burning 256,108 acres and destroying 322 residences. Photo and caption: Washington Department of Natural Resources, on Flickr, under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0.

Pacific Northwesterners, especially those of us living and breathing in the inland Northwest, expect wildfires every summer. It’s not about if, but about when, where, and how severe they will be, both in forest and rangeland landscapes. As with many other aspects of natural resource management, climate change continues to add a layer of complexity and uncertainty both in terms of the patterns of fire expected in the future, and in terms of the response of land managers. The USDA’s Northwest Climate Hub’s April 2020 newsletter highlighted the findings of two scientific articles that are addressing questions around future patterns in wildfires and what can be done to prepare. Continue reading

Check it out: Protecting Water from the Impacts of Wildfire… Are There Other Advantages?

By Sonia A. Hall

Firefighter looking back to a surface fire under a pine canopy, surrounded by smoke.

A recent report describes how wildfire risk reduction projects can have rippling economic effects across a community. Photo: Gila National Forest under CC BY-SA 2.0.

Being involved in FireEarth, a large research project exploring what makes communities more or less vulnerable to the impacts of wildfire and its cascading consequences, I am really interested in the complexity of impacts and, just as important, what communities, agencies, and other organizations can do to reduce their vulnerabilities. It is not unusual for the initial hypothesis associated with these questions to be that wildfire risk reduction projects in the watershed upstream and around a community have costs associated with them, and we need to understand those costs—as well as the targeted risk reduction benefits that such projects provide—to make sound investment decisions. Now recent work published by the US Geological Survey and partners explores other advantages of such projects: Continue reading