How Landscape Affects Fire Recovery

8598789914_1c1055225f_zMany states, including Utah, often experience devastating wildfires.  These disasters are especially prevalent during the hot, dry months of summer.  While environmental restoration from these fires can be a lengthy process, could the landscape of the area increase the recovery rate?

This inquiry was taken on in conjunction with our college’s recent Fulton Conference.  The study was conducted by a team of geography students comprising of Alan Barth, Roxanna Hedges, Kevin Ricks, Ben Seipert, and Dr. Matt Bekker, their faculty mentor.  Their research showed a positive correlation between an environment’s recovery rate and its vegetation and slope.

The Experiment

The team chose to research the 2007 Salt Creek Fire in Utah’s Juab and Sanpete counties.  This site allowed them to study both the effects of the slope aspect and the rates of the maple and scrub oak tree recovery compared to the juniper trees.

Speaking of their research process, the students explained, “We used imagery from 2006, just before the fire, as our control, and imagery from 2014 for visualizing sufficient regrowth time.  We then analyzed this imagery by running landscape metrics…measur[ing] spatial characteristics of patch, classes of patches, or the landscapes…We also used the slope aspect map to analyze the vegetation types based on the slope aspect.”

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Following their research, the students found that “the oak and maple scrub vegetation increased after the fire because the oak and maple scrub sprout from roots and grow at a more rapid rate. Juniper took the longest to recover from the fire. This is likely because juniper grows slowly compared to maple and oak scrub.”

The study also discovered that the slope of the hill and its direction affected how fast the environment would recovery.  From their maps, the students founds that the north facing slopes grew back at a quicker rate than the south facing slopes.  They hypothesized that “this is likely explained by the amount of sunlight that these slopes receive. The south facing slopes in this terrain grew back slower due to receiving more sunlight throughout the day and not being in the shade like the north facing slopes. Being in the shade allowed for the north facing slopes to retain water more water while the south facing slope water evaporated more quickly or became run-off.”

Landscape Ecology of Fire Recovery

The Effect

The findings of this study could help ecologists to better understand the timeline and effectiveness of wildfire recovery.  By furthering knowledge in this field, changes could be made to improve environmental recovery as well as potentially wildfire prevention.

To learn more about wildfire prevention, go to the following website.

Pictures courtesy of Flickr.

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