Burnt pine trees alongside a forest fire sign show evidence of wildfire in the Laguna Mountains, which provide an oasis for diverse species from the surrounding desert of east San Diego County and are located in The Las Californias Binational Conservation area, a protected wildlife corridor in the California-Baja California international borderlands.

Working Group:
Fire Research Consensus

Fire is widely seen as one of the most important conservation uncertainties, and it directly affects the health and well-being of people living near fire-prone landscapes and those who depend on water and other ecosystem services and products. Right now, across the Western United States, there is a broad range of research perspectives that make development of science-based fire management plans challenging, from national forest policy to state level management and individual stand prescriptions. To sustainably coexist with fire, especially given the uncertainties of climate change, identifying common ground among fire researchers is crucial.

Photo: © Stephen Francis | More Info
Photo: © Mark Skalny

Working Group Summary

Finding a Path Forward

There is growing concern over how to best manage fire-prone landscapes in the face of an uncertain future climate, as well as an increasingly contentious scientific debate over what amount of high-severity fire should be considered “natural” in dry conifer forests across the Western U.S. With a forward-thinking perspective, this Working Group will bring together representatives from diverse geographic and scientific backgrounds to review and synthesize available data, identify where consensus exists, and focus on policy and management decisions based on that consensus.

Learn about the Challenge

Photo: © UF/IFAS by Tyler Jones

The Challenge

Defining Areas of Agreement

The core of ongoing disagreement revolves around what the natural frequency and size of high severity patches should be in various mixed conifer forests, based on reconstructions of prehistoric conditions. This conflict – over fire history analysis to inform contemporary fire management – creates a significant roadblock for fire management and planning for conservation, restoration, and ecosystem management efforts across very large landscapes, and it affects the lives and resources of many people.

Although the scientific fire history debate and knowledge gaps are real, it is not obvious which policy and management decisions actually hinge on resolving specific aspects of the conflict. This is particularly true in the context of an uncertain future that will be impacted by climate change and continued human development. What actions can be taken now to increase ecosystem resilience, and what scientific consensus is there to support such actions?


Read about the Inquiry

Burning forest in northern Arizona.

The Inquiry

Identifying Common Ground Among Fire Researchers

The Fire Research Consensus (FRC) Project strives to provide a clear path forward for scientists, land managers, and communities to deal with recent scientific controversies regarding the role of high-severity fires, especially in forests of the American west. The FRC developed an extensive questionnaire to survey 77 practicing scientists representing diverse geographic and scientific backgrounds.

We are now synthesizing results from 36 respondents. The depth and breadth of responses is sufficient to identify key areas of agreement and disagreement among fire scientists. This analysis will allow us to identify ways to proceed on issues still unsettled, which will greatly facilitate application of existing scientific findings. The FRC steering committee met to discuss this work from November 1-4, 2016 in Yosemite National Park.

Steering committee members are collaboratively evaluating and summarizing the questionnaire results, which will produce a shorter list of consensus statements and issues for both science and management. These draft results will again be circulated in spring 2017 for discussion among both the science respondent community and a wider group of forest managers.

The FRC steering committee is optimistic that summaries obtained from this work can clarify accepted science to aid land managers and community leaders to help determine when and where controlled fire is appropriate, and to better prepare for adverse fire impacts.  Stay tuned…

Meet the Team

Photo: © Marty Cordano | More Info

The Team

The Fire Research Consensus Team