Golden Spike National Monument

The research plots at Golden Spike National Monument in Utah will help determine the best process to reduce non-native invasive grasses.

Fire Effects Monitoring Program

Research on the effects of fire has been occurring for years in the national parks. It is an important basis of decision-making for park and fire managers.

Why does the National Park Service monitor?

Fire is a powerful and enduring force that has had, and will continue to have, a profound influence on National Park Service (NPS) lands. Restoring and maintaining this natural process are both important management goals for many NPS areas. Therefore, information about the use and effect of prescribed fire on park resources is critical to sound, scientifically based management decisions. Using results from a high quality monitoring program to evaluate a park’s prescribed fire management program is the key to successful adaptive management. By using monitoring results to determine whether management objectives are being met, managers can verify that the program is on track, or conversely, provide clues as to what may not be working as planned so that appropriate changes can be made.

The fire monitoring program allows the National Park Service to document basic information, to detect trends, and to ensure that parks meet their fire and resource management objectives. From identified trends, park staff can articulate specific concerns, develop hypotheses, and identify specific research projects to develop solutions to problems.

The Goals of the Program

  • Document basic information for all wildland fires, regardless of management strategy
  • Document fire behavior to allow managers to take appropriate action on all fires that either have the potential to threaten resource values.
  • Are being managed under specific constrains, such as a prescribed fire or use fire
  • Document and analyze both short-term and long-term prescribed fire effects on vegetation
  • Establish a recommended standard for data collection and analysis techniques to facilitate the sharing of monitoring data
  • Follow trends in plant communities where fire effects literature exists, or research has been conducted
  • Identify areas where additional research is needed

Monitoring the effects of fire on park ecosystems is an important part of the Wildland Fire Program. Fire managers need to accurately predict fire behavior under varying weather conditions, and predict how fire will affect fuel loads, plant populations, and tree regeneration. The Fire effects crew monitors prescribed fires and hazard fuel treatment areas to ensure that management objectives are met and that harmful effects are not occurring. The crew also studies natural ignitions to better understand the role of lightning-caused fire and how management may balance the natural fire regime with visitor safety and resource protection.

Standard data collected include:

  • Shrub and herbaceous vegetation composition and abundance
  • Tree density, diameter and health by species and size class
  • Fuel load by size class (1 hr, 10 hr, 100 hr and 1000 hr fuels)
  • Litter and duff depth
  • Average scorch height (Post-burn)
  • Percent Crown scorch (Post-burn)
  • Burn Severity (Post-burn)
  • Visual changes at permanent photo points

The Process and Results

Vegetation is sampled prior to burning or mechanical treatment, immediately after, and at 1, 2, 5, and 10 year intervals. After collection, the data are entered into a database and stored for analysis. The data allow resource managers and scientists to compare pre- and post-burn vegetation composition and fuel loadings and assess whether burn objectives were met, and to track long-term ecosystem changes due to fire.

Fire Effects Monitoring

Fire effects monitoring continues well after a fire is out. Noatak National Preserve, Alaska.