Resilient Landscapes and Fire Regimes

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 (Standish et al. 2014), 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? For example, the Cohesive Strategy defines a resilient ecosystem as one that “resists damage and recovers quickly from disturbances (such as wildland fires) and human activities” (USDOI and USDA 2014). Holling (1973) originally defined resilent systems as those that demonstrate persistence of ecological landscapes even when affected by disturbance. Many more defintions of resilience exist, yet there is no coherent set of guiding principles for quantifying resilience. More significant is the lack of guidelines for translating resilience theory into operational management actions, particularly in the context of fire management and current socio-political frameworks (Folke 2006). As one of the most influential disturbance agents 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 challenges any simple definitions of what resilient ecosystems look like, when they are vulnerable to change, and how management actions can be effectively implemented. A coherent resilience assessement, grounded in meaning and metrics that are central to fire ecology and fire management, is needed to guide management actions. 

Our objectives are to advance the clarity and applicability of resilience with respect to:

  • Meaning: Synthesize the concept of resilient ecosystems and landscapes, with particular reference to fire in western forested landscapes in an era of extended droughts, climate change, and other stressors; bridge ecological and social resilience concepts, especially in the context of policy and forest planning.
  • Metrics: Develop a Resilience Assessment method, adapted from existing vulnerability analysis that can be inverted to target ecological resilience, leading to quantitative assessments of how management objectives and actions can influence ecosystem resilience to disturbance and climate change.
  • Management: Demonstrate and evaluate the application of the Resilience Assessment in three representative low, mixed, and high severity fire regime landscapes, illustrating the fundamental importance of ecological and social-political context (i.e., no “one size fits all”).

Select Publications & Products

Baughman, C.A., R.A. Loehman, D.R. Magness, L.B. Saperstein, and R.L. Sherriff. 2020. Four decades of land cover change on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska: Detecting disturbance-influenced vegetation shifts using Landsat legacy data. Land. 9:382.

Coop, J. D., S. A. Parks, C. S. Stevens-Rumann, S. D. Crausbay, P. E. Higuera, M. D. Hurteau, A. Tepley, E. Whitman, T. Assal, B. M. Collins, K. T. Davis, S. Z. Dobrowski, D. A. Falk, P. J. Fornwalt, P. Z. Fule, B. J. Harvey, V. R. Kane, C. E. Littlefield, E. Q. Margolis, M. North, M.-A. Parisien, S. Prichard, and K. C. Rodmen. 2020. Wildfire-driven forest conversion in western North American landscapes. BioScience 70:659-673.

Keane, R. E., R. A. Loehman, L. M. Holsinger, D. A. Falk, P. Higuera, S. M. Hood, and P. F. Hessburg. 2018. Use of landscape simulation modeling to quantify resilience for ecological applications. Ecosphere 9:e02414.

Keeley, J. E., P. van Mantgem, and D. A. Falk. 2019. Fire, climate and changing forests. Nature Plants 5:774-775.

Falk, D. A., A. C. Watts, and A. E. Thode. 2019. Scaling ecological resilience. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 7:275.

Falk, D. A. 2017. Restoration Ecology, Resilience, and the Axes of Change. Annals of the Missouri Botanical Garden 102:201-217.

Higuera, P. E., A. L. Metcalf, C. Miller, B. Buma, D. B. McWethy, E. C. Metcalf, Z. Ratajczak, C. R. Nelson, B. C. Chaffin, R. C. Stedman, S. McCaffrey, T. Schoennagel, B. J. Harvey, S. M. Hood, C. A. Schultz, A. E. Black, D. Campbell, J. H. Haggerty, R. E. Keane, M. A. Krawchuk, J. C. Kulig, R. Rafferty, and A. Virapongse. 2019. Integrating subjective and objective dimensions of resilience in fire-prone landscapes. Bioscience 69:379-388.

O’Connor, C. D., D. A. Falk, and G. M. Garfin. 2020. Projected climate-fire interactions drive forest to shrubland transition on an Arizona Sky Island. Frontiers in Environmental Science. 8: Article 137. 8:137.

van Mantgem, P. J., D. A. Falk, E. C. Williams, A. J. Das, and N. L. Stephenson. 2020. The influence of pre-fire growth patterns on post-fire tree mortality for common conifers in western US parks. International Journal of Wildland Fire 29:513-518.