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Goal: Deliver Benefits to the Public Prescribed fire science: Why we need it now more than ever

Prescribed fire is an essential but underutilized tool for mitigating wildfire risk and maintaining ecosystem health. However, nearly all wildland fire research has been focused on wildfire. Researchers posit that the science required for guiding and improving prescribed fire is sufficiently unique to justify a separate approach—and that this will provide significant benefits to wildfire management as well.

Director’s Choice
A prescribed fire experiment showing grids of fire burning among pine trees
The Consortium conducted an experiment at Tall Timbers Research Station to capture detailed measurements on how ignition patterns influence fire behavior and to fine-tune fire behavior models for prescribed fires. USDA Forest Service photo by Joseph O’Brien.

Wildland fire is a keystone ecological and social process, but large areas of the global landscape have an imbalance. -In some areas there is too much fire and in other areas not enough. In both cases, the management of intentional ignitions can help restore the balance of fire. However, most of the research in the broader field of wildland fire science has focused on wildfires, an understandable reaction to their high costs to both individuals and society.

Prescribed fire science requires a different approach in terms of objectives and implementation. Because the choices on how, when, and where to ignite a fire are nearly unlimited, the practice requires a robust and mechanistic understanding of the complex interactions among ignition pattern, atmospheric dynamics, fire behavior, and subsequent smoke production and ecological effects.

Prescribed fire is intrinsically linked to land management. The Prescribed Fire Science Consortium joins scientists across disciplines with managers for a unified research approach aimed at understanding and improving prescribed fire as an ecological process and a management tool. Prescribed fires can span the same continuum of fire behavior and effects as wildfires, the only difference being the source and intent of the ignition. Thus, researchers also contend that research aimed at understanding prescribed fire will improve both wildland fire science and wildfire management.

Principal Investigators
Joseph O’Brien, Project Leader, Research Ecologist
Scott Goodrick, Center Director, Supervisory Research Meteorologist
E. Louise Loudermilk, Research Ecologist
4156 - Center for Forest Disturbance Science
Strategic Program Area
Wildland Fire and Fuels
Prescribed fire science: The case for a refined research agenda
Research Partners
Nicholas Skowronski - Northern Research Station
Bret Butler - Rocky Mountain Research Station
External Partners
J. Kevin Hiers - Tall Timbers Research Station and Conservancy
Morgan Varner - Tall Timbers Research Station and Conservancy