The Southern Sierra Nevada Ecoregion contains extensive forests that depend upon periodic fire for their persistence (fig. 1). This includes fire-adapted giant sequoia trees, which not only depend on but also thrive with frequent fire. As a result of a century of fire exclusion, however, many otherwise protected landscapes have developed unnatural species compositions and forest structure with heavy fuel accumulations. In recent decades, warming temperatures and a shift toward earlier snowmelt have interacted with these changes in forest structure, resulting in more frequent lightning ignitions, more area burned, more frequent large wildfires, greater extent of stand-replacing high-severity fire, longer wildfire durations, and longer wildfire seasons (Westerling et al. 2006; Miller et al. 2008; Lutz et al. 2009). With projections of continued warming, fire activity and severity are expected to keep rising in the Sierra Nevada, increasing the risk of catastrophic wildland fire to human safety, property, communities, giant sequoias, and ecosystems. For example, four climate change scenarios forecast an increase in probability of large wildfires from 100% to 400% by 2070–2099 (Westerling and Bryant 2008).
Park managers increasingly recognize that climate change affects their abilities to appropriately manage fire and conserve valued ecosystem elements and services. Southern Sierra Nevada resource managers have decided to approach the challenge head-on to prepare for, reduce, and respond to these impacts. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Sequoia National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument are working together on a pilot project to develop the capacity to manage fire under a “new lens” and to revise fire management objectives, tools, and methods so that valued resources sensitive to climate change can be conserved at an appropriate scale. This is the first application of the Strategic Framework for Science in Support of Management in the Southern Sierra Nevada Ecoregion (NPS et al. 2009), described in the previous article. Importantly, the project seeks not only to understand which resources are most vulnerable to changes in climate, fire regimes, and other interacting stressors, but also to identify where these vulnerable resources are located and describe where and how fire management activities may need to vary in the future under different scenarios. Our specific project objectives are listed in table 1.
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, Sequoia National Forest, and Giant Sequoia National Monument are working together on a pilot project to develop the capacity to manage fire under a “new lens” and to revise fire management objectives, tools, and methods so that valued resources sensitive to climate change can be conserved at an appropriate scale.
This effort is an experiment reaching into uncharted territory, an iterative process that will be repeated and refined over time. Anticipated initial outputs include the development of a range of plausible future scenarios of climate, fire, and vegetation; spatially explicit resource vulnerability assessments; a decision support framework; and expertise and knowledge required to effectively and efficiently revise fire management objectives, prescriptions, and techniques.
The pilot project is an initiative of the newly formed Southern Sierra Conservation Cooperative (also described in the previous article). In addition, the project team will work collaboratively with the Southern Sierra Fire Science Integration Work Group. The information, tools, and management options developed as a result of this exercise will inform the five-year review of the parks’ Fire and Fuels Management Plan scheduled for 2013, as well as upcoming U.S. Forest Service fire management plans.
Nydick, K., and C. Sydoriak. 2011. Alternative futures for fire management under a changing climate. Park Science 28(1):44–47.
Available at http://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/archive/PDF/Article_PDFs/ParkScience28(1)Spring2011_44-47_NydickSydoriak_2790.pdf.