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Western Landscapes

Integrated Landscape Assessment Project

ILAP final report cover

ILAP Final Report

Fire suppression, vegetation management activities, wildfires, grazing, climate change and other factors result in constantly changing vegetation and habitat conditions across millions of ha in the western United States. In recent years, the size and number of large wildfires has grown, threatening lives, property, and ecosystem integrity. At the same time, habitat for species of concern is often becoming less suitable, the economic vitality of many natural resource-dependent human communities is declining, and resources available for land management are tight. Techniques are needed to prioritize where natural resource management activities are likely to be most effective and result in desirable conditions. Solutions driven by single resource concerns have proven problematic in most cases, since ecological and human systems are necessarily intertwined.

San Juan Mountains

San Juan Mountains (Miles Hemstrom)

To help resource managers prioritize management actions across large landscapes, the Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) produced databases, reports, maps, analyses, and other information showing mid- to broad-scale (thousands to hundreds of thousands of hectares and larger areas) vegetation conditions and potential future trends, key wildlife habitat conditions and trends, wildfire hazard, potential economic value of products that might be generated during vegetation management, and other critical information for all lands and all major upland vegetation types in Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. ILAP work involved gathering and consolidating existing information, developing new information to fill data holes, and merging vegetation model information with fuel classifications, wildlife habitat models, community and economic information, and potential climate change effects. Information resulting from ILAP will highlight priority areas for management, considering a combination of landscape characteristics.

Authored by Miles A. Hemstrom, Jessica E. Halofsky, R. James Barbour, Janine Salwasser (2012) 

Vegetation conditions:

Pressures on natural landscapes from human development and resource utilization have impacted historical vegetation patterns and associated wildlife habitat and fire regimes.  These same pressures will likely impact future vegetation conditions.   Land managers and planners must weigh a suite of considerations and conditions as they develop strategies for the future that are both cost effective and ecologically sound. 

Latourelle Falls

Latourelle Falls (Miles Hemstrom)

The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) is addressing trends in vegetation conditions over large landscapes.  The Vegetative Dynamics Development Tool (VDDT) is a state and transition model that provides users with probable vegetation types and arrangements through time given different management actions and natural disturbances (e.g. fire, insect outbreaks, trees felled from wind).   VDDT creates consistent computer vegetation models that use existing conditions to generate  plausible future vegetation types and structures.  This foundational data can help address the following questions: What are the conditions and trends of vegetation over time given current management? How might those trends change under alternative management scenarios?

Climate change impacts:

Climate change has the potential to impact the landscape in a variety of ways including the distribution of vegetation, the timing and availability of water, and the probability of fire occurrence in a particular area. While global climate models predict future changes to climate, these models often do not provide summaries of tangential impacts without the incorporation of additional datasets that express the possible ways a changing climate is linked to changes across the landscape.  The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project is helping to address these issues by identifying watersheds where restoration treatments for different climate scenarios are likely to have the greatest impacts, both positive and negative, on fire hazard risks, rural communities, selected wildlife habitats, and water supplies.

ILAP is evaluating climate change uncertainties by looking at how hydrology may affect a watershed, how that will impact vegetation, and how fire regimes will be altered accordingly.  Researchers are utilizing several simulation computer models and other tools to assess the effects of plausible future climate scenarios.  The outcome probabilities and projections from this research will allow users to better understand the additional challenges of incorporating climate change into land management strategies.

Climate Change and Vegetation

The MC1 Dynamic Global Vegetation Model is being used to simulate the impact of climate change on vegetation distribution and landscape processes across Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico.  Changes in climate can affect plant growth, alter the risk and severity of wildfires, and cause shifts in vegetation types.    The MC1 model considers current ecosystem conditions and projects possible changes in vegetation and resulting fire regimes given altered temperatures and rainfall patterns due to climate change.  It takes into account the makeup of plant communities, the cycling of nutrients between plants and the soil, and the resulting changes in fire hazards.  Results from the MC1 model can be used by the Vegetation Dynamics Development Tool (VDDT) to modify probabilities that one type of vegetation state and condition will change to another type under varying land management decisions. 

Climate Change and Watersheds

Netmap is a collection of spatial tools that can help identify where on the landscape climate change may have the greatest impact on erosion, stream temperature, water quality and flow, and the associated effects on species habitats.  Based on a computer model of a stream system, different inputs such as bank slope and sediment erosion potential can be used to create maps of priority restoration areas.  Netmap is free downloadable software that can be overlaid on Google Earth to help managers identify areas where changes are most likely, and where restoration activities may be most effective. 

Climate Change and Fire Probabilities

Wildfire and vegetation dynamics in dry, interior forests are also being studied under various climate change scenarios using the FireBGCv2 computer model.  Maps are created at varying scales to illustrate fire ignition, spread and the number and severity of fires, and shifting vegetation arrangements and distributions.  Results from the FireBGCv2 model help inform the VDDT model by characterizing vegetation change and altered fire regimes under a range of potential climate change conditions.  The focal area for this research section is in the Deschutes National Forest, which has a wide assortment of potential vegetation types, dominant tree canopy cover and elevation gradients.

Economics of fuel treatments

In the past century, changes in land use and fire suppression have led to forest conditions with heavy accumulations of flammable materials. Fuel treatments are deliberate actions to thin the forest and reduce the risk of severe wildfire. These treatments can be very costly, or they can generate revenue in the form of timber and other forest products. The financial impact is tied to several factors including the future supply of biomass and forest products, the estimated cost of treatments, and the possible revenue generated from the forest products removed. Availability of materials (both size and type), transportation costs to get the product to a processing facility, and potential product price all need to be taken into account when estimating the financial impact of fuel treatments. The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) is helping to inform this issue by identifying watersheds where restoration treatments are most likely to have the greatest economic benefits given all these considerations, as well as providing other natural resource values.

Lake Tahoe

Lake Tahoe (Miles Hemstrom)

ILAP is developing an estimate of the potential supply of timber and other marketable forest products in watersheds across Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon,and Washington. A cost-benefit analysis for a variety of management actions is being conducted to compare the costs of harvest and transportation against possible revenue from prescribed fuel treatments. This data can help land managers and mills evaluate prospective areas for timber and forest product extraction and assess watersheds where fuel treatments may have the largest economic potential in terms of revenue and jobs for communities. This study will address the following questions: Where might fuel treatments generate timber and forest products, and how much is likely to be created? How much might it cost to harvest and transport timber and forest products from specific areas? How much does transportation distance affect the financial outcome of the treatment?

Relevant Links:

Estimating Aboveground Tree Biomass on Forest Land in the Pacific Northwest: A Comparison of Approaches

Fire and fuel characterization:

In the past century changes in land use and fire suppression have led to forest conditions with heavy accumulations of flammable materials and an increase d risk of catastrophic large scale fires. Fire hazard is an important consideration for land managers in the west, and is linked to the amount of fuel available in a particular forest type and size class, the disturbance the area undergoes, and the way the land is managed.  To asses current and future fuel hazards the impact of these factors needs to be combined. The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project is helping to address this issue by identifying watersheds where restoration treatments are most likely to have the greatest impacts on reducing fire hazard risk, as well as providing other natural resource and rural community benefits. 

ILAP is addressing how differing natural disturbances and land management actions may affect future fire hazard, or potential fire behavior, across forested landscapes in Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico. By integrating state-and-transition models that that simulates changes in vegetation with a software application (Fuel Characteristic Classification System) which analyzes wildland fire potential, land managers can assess potential changes in landscape fire hazards under different management and disturbance scenarios.  Fuel treatments, or management actions that are intended to reduce the likelihood of a severe wildfire, can be simulated to assess their effects on fire hazard across landscapes.  The analysis will help managers in these states develop plans to reduce forest fire hazard and protect both people and ecosystems. Questions being addressed with this work include: What is the extent to which fuel treatment programs can reduce fire hazards over time at the mid-scale (HUC 5 watershed scale)? How would different forest management scenarios change short and longer term (100 years or more) fuel conditions and fire hazard?

Relevant Links:

The Fuel Characteristic Classification System

Wildlife habitat:

Wildlife habitat distribution is affected by a variety of factors including, climate change impacts, land management, and wildfire frequency and severity. It is difficult to reconcile the combined impact of these factors and predict how wildlife habitat may change in the future. The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) is helping to address this issue by identifying watersheds where restoration treatments are most likely to have the greatest benefits on both the amounts and diversity of habitat for selected species.

Elk (Miles Hemstrom)

By combining wildlife habitat-relationship information with plausible future vegetation conditions from vegetation state-and-transition models, ILAP data identifies watersheds that may contain habitat for selected focal species.  A “focal species” is a species or group of species that is of conservation concern because it is more sensitive to or limited by ecological processes.  A project’s management actions can be evaluated based on the benefits to focal species.  Besides assessing current wildlife habitat status on a 5th field watershed scale (40,000 to 250,000 acres), areas are identified with the best potential to provide future key habitats under different management scenarios, including a “no management”.  It is anticipated that this information will provide land managers and planners with an ability to evaluate how specific habitats may be impacted by various land management decisions across Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico.  The research questions guiding this work include: How much habitat area exists for particular focal species? How many acres of habitat for those species are likely to exist in the future under different land management scenarios?

Rural community economics:

Changes in federal forest policy have negatively impacted some rural communities whose economies have historically been largely driven by the timber industry. Targeted fuel reduction treatments that remove accumulated biomass have the potential to economically benefit these communities, if communities and watersheds that have the necessary conditions in place are identified.  The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project is helping to address this issue by identifying watersheds where restoration treatments are most likely to have the greatest community benefits, as well as providing other natural resource values.

The Integrated Landscape Assessment Project (ILAP) is working to identify watersheds and rural communities across Oregon, Washington, Arizona, and New Mexico where forest treatments can be cost effectively used to support both restoration and economic development.   Forest treatments are management activities that can produce timber, biomass, other marketable forest materials, and/or reduce the risk of wildfire.Communities are assigned an Impact Score based on their level of socio-economic distress, their ability to utilize harvested forest materials, and whether they were impacted by changes in Federal Forest policy, such as the Northwest Forest Plan.  The Impact Score combined with the proximity of a community to a watershed with sufficient harvestable forest material will address the following question:  What is the ability of forest treatments in a watershed to benefit rural communities?

Relevant Links:

Understanding the Social and Economic Transitions for Forest Communities

Authored by Cynthia Comfort, Institute For Natural Resources (2011)

Learn more about ILAP focus areas:

Click below to interact with videos and information about the Integrated Landscape Assessment Project.

ILAP pachyderm

Relevant Links:

Integrated Landscape Assessment Project

Vegetation Dynamics development Tool (VDDT)