Evaluating and monitoring forest fuel treatments using remote sensing applications in Arizona, U.S.A.

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

The practice of fire suppression across the western United States over the past century has led to dense forests, and when coupled with drought has contributed to an increase in large and destructive wildfires. Forest management efforts aimed at reducing flammable fuels through various fuel treatments can help to restore frequent fire regimes and increase forest resilience. Our research examines how different fuel treatments influenced burn severity and post-fire vegetative stand dynamics on the San Carlos Apache Reservation, in east-central Arizona, U.S.A. Our methods included the use of multitemporal remote sensing data and cloud computing to evaluate burn severity and post-fire vegetation conditions as well as statistical analyses. We investigated how forest thinning, commercial harvesting, prescribed burning, and resource benefit burning (managed wildfire) related to satellite measured burn severity (the difference Normalized Burn Ratio – dNBR) following the 2013 Creek Fire and used spectral measures of post-fire stand dynamics to track changes in land surface characteristics (i.e., brightness, greenness and wetness). We found strong negative relationships between dNBR and post-fire greenness and wetness, and a positive non-linear relationship between dNBR and brightness, with greater variability at higher severities. Fire severity and post-fire surface changes also differed by treatment type. Our results showed harvested and thinned sites that were not treated with prescribed fire had the highest severity fire. When harvesting was followed by a prescribed burn, the sites experienced lower burn severity and reduced post-fire changes in vegetation greenness and wetness. Areas that had previously experienced resource benefit burns had the lowest burn severities and the highest post-fire greenness measurements compared to all other treatments, except for where the prescribed burn had occurred. These results suggest that fire treatments may be most effective at reducing the probability of hazardous fire and increasing post-fire recovery. This research demonstrates the utility of remote sensing and spatial data to inform forest management, and how various fuel treatments can influence burn severity and post-fire vegetation response within ponderosa pine forests across the southwestern U.S.

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Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Evaluating and monitoring forest fuel treatments using remote sensing applications in Arizona, U.S.A.
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2018.01.036
Volume 413
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Western Geographic Science Center
Description 14 p.
First page 48
Last page 61
Country United States
State Arizona