Series: National Park Service Alaska Region Fire Ecology Annual Report Calendar Year 2016

Fire Ecology Annual Report 2016 - Research and Technology

By Jennifer L. Barnes and Jennifer L. Hrobak
The AKR fire ecology program coordinates research and facilitates the use of scientific data, modeling and technology to address the needs of the fire management program. In 2016 three fire research proposals were submitted to NPS and other funding organizations (see Table 6). Funding was received from USGS and FWS-LCC to assess the extent, cause and impacts of shortened fire return intervals in boreal forests. Field work was completed in 2016 to assess changes after fires that occurred in 2000 and 2015 in Denali (as described under the monitoring section of this report). A tree ring study in Wrangell-St. Elias (WRST) was funded in FY15 with NPS Reserve Fuels Research funds and field work occurred during 2016 (see below for more information).

Both fire ecologists are part of the interagency Fire Research, Development and Application Committee (FRDAC) for the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordinating Group (AWFCG) and are on the board for the JFSP Alaska Fire Science Consortium. Both ecologists participated in workshops and meetings for an interagency effort to update the Alaska Fuel Model Guide Book.
Table 6. Research workload in 2016.
Park Are research needs identified in FMP or Monitoring Plan? (yes or no) # of Proposals Submitted in 2016 # of Proposals Funded in 2016 # of Research Projects Supported in 20161 Additional Comments
Wrangell-St. Elias NPPr Yes 0 0 1 NPS FY15 Reserve Fund
Denali NPPr Under revision 3 2 1 1 USGS NRPP proposal submitted - not funded. Funded by USGS and FWS-LCC.

1Number of funded research projects, new or ongoing, supported by the fire ecology program including logistical info or support, staffing, etc.
Researchers from University of Montana collect tree cores from the WRST McCarthy University Subdivision fuels treatment site to age the stand and determine time since last disturbance.
Figure 11. Researchers from University of Montana collect tree cores from the WRST McCarthy University Subdivision fuels treatment site to age the stand and determine time since last disturbance.

NPS photo

WRST Fire History and Tree Ring Research

While monitoring the fuels treatment project conducted in Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve (WRST) at the McCarthy University Subdivision, numerous burned stumps were observed suggesting evidence of a previous old fire. The fuels project happened to occur in an area that was presumably burned in a very large (estimated 380,000 acre) fire from 1915 (Lutz 1956). During the fuels treatment over 100 cross sections of trees cut during the thinning project were collected for aging the stand, and preliminary tree ring counts indicated the stand was younger than 1915 (Barnes and Northway 2015).

In 2015 a research proposal was funded through the NPS Reserve Funds to age the stand and study the tree ring growth patterns to infer growth release and suppression at the site to potentially relate to climate and weather parameters that may lead to large fire growth in this region of Alaska. In 2015 the Cooperative Ecosystem Study Unit Agreement was created with the University of Montana (PI: Dr. Phil Higuera). The collected tree cross sections that were collected previously were mailed to the University.

During the summer of 2016, the PI and undergraduate student from the University of Montana joined the fire ecology program at the McCarthy University Subdivision fuels treatment project to collect additional tree cross sections and cores to validate age/height relationships of previously collected cross-sections (Fig. 11). During their field work 120 tree cores and 63 tree cross-sections were collected (32 from cut stumps). In addition the researchers collected information on stump heights and moss heights to develop age relationships to where the trees were cut. The material collected are being sanded and analyzed in the lab. Preliminary results are expected to be completed by the spring of 2017.