Wildland Fire and Prescribed Burning
Fire plays a vital role in the ecology of fire-adapted ecosystems and, due mostly to the introduction of non-native invasive species (NIS), in non-fire-adapted ecosystems as well. The Department of Defense manages both types of ecosystems. In forest ecosystems, use of prescribed fire is an integral part of the silvicultural prescription toolbox associated with ecological forestry. Moreover, wildfires tend to occur at times when human populations are most susceptible to smoke exposure. These fires consume heavier fuels and organic soil horizons and can smolder for extended periods, which may lead to much higher emissions of reduced compounds including many air toxics. Prescribed burning is commonly performed with the aid of fire weather forecasting systems that can help to minimize direct human exposure to smoke, minimize the impact to transportation activities, and limit smoldering combustion. To support DoD’s continued use of fire as a management tool, SERDP and ESTCP are working to address both characterizing emissions associated with fire and understanding how fire acts as a disturbance process that resets ecological communities.
Data and models are needed to identify the emissions resulting from prescribed burning and wildfires, on and adjacent to DoD lands, and to accurately allocate the source contribution of these fires to regional air quality in comparison to other sources. Information is needed for the variety of fire-adapted ecological systems managed by DoD. To address this need, SERDP supports research to characterize fire emissions from southeastern and southwestern vegetation types managed by DoD and to advance the development of models for assessing the impact of fire on air quality. This work will contribute substantial new information on the types of emissions caused by biomass burning and also inform our understanding of the difference in emission profiles between fire-maintained stands and fire-suppressed stands. This information is vital in meeting air quality requirements while maintaining the ability of DoD resource managers to use fire as a management tool.
Current emissions characterization is focused on regulated constituents. A by-product of this work, however, also will provide information on the greenhouse gas emission profiles of fires. These types of data, along with other SERDP research on the carbon cycle of DoD forest ecosystems and the relationship to ecological forestry, will provide DoD resource managers the information and tools they need to manage their forests for multiple benefits: military mission support, carbon management, smoke management, biological diversity, wood products, and other desired ecosystem services.
Finally, besides investigating the role of fire as a disturbance process in forests as part of its ecological forestry initiative, SERDP researchers also are examining the relationship between fire and NIS in the Southwest and how that relationship may be exacerbated by climate change. Fire is an important ecological process that will require human intervention to either initiate or prevent, as appropriate, and to manage its consequences. SERDP research will continue to provide managers the understanding and tools needed to manage fire safely and effectively to achieve desired ecological conditions while protecting assets and air quality.
SERDP and ESTCP Report:
Fire Science Strategy Plan (2014)
State of Fire Behavior Models and their Application to Ecosystem and Smoke Management Issues (2014)