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Spatial science supports strategic fire planning in the Southern Region

Strategic planning is crucial for confronting the ongoing wildfire crisis. Prescribed fire, when planned and executed carefully, is a key management tool in this effort. A collaborative initiative between partner organizations and multiple branches of the USDA Forest Service – Southern Research Station scientists, National Forest System managers, and experts in the Southern Region – will give planners and practitioners landscape-level information for planning new investments in prescribed fire programs when and where they can do the most good.

A firefighter in a vehicle surveys the progress of a prescribed fire in the background.
A prescribed fire in longleaf pine savannah, Ocala NF, Florida. Prescribed fire is a key tool for reducing risks associated with wildfire, and for improving forest ecological conditions. USDA Forest Service photo.

Changes in land use, forest characteristics, climate, and other factors make mitigating wildfire risks more complex than ever. To meet the challenges of the ongoing wildfire crisis, the Forest Service and partners have stressed the need for timely information about complex landscapes. Prescribed fire is a principal tool for reducing wildfire risks while improving conditions in forests across the southern U.S. Knowing where prescribed fire can do the most good, with the fewest trade-offs among different goals and costs, helps to ensure the efficient use of new investments to safely reduce wildfire risks.

Forest Service scientists are collaborating with the National Forest System, the Southern Group of State Foresters, and the Southeastern Regional Cohesive Fire Strategy to develop transparent, evidence-based tools for prescribed fire planning and decision-making at the regional scale. Researchers combine the expert knowledge of partners with spatial data and assessments of fire behavior, forest conditions, climate, socioeconomic vulnerabilities, population densities, infrastructure, and important watersheds.

Synthesizing the factors that drive risk will help planners know where prescribed fire can be most effective to reduce risks and support fire-resilient communities, while minimizing trade-offs. The collaborative, integrated nature of this ongoing effort ensures the timely delivery of planning-ready information products.

Principal Investigators
Sandhya Nepal, ORISE Fellow
Nick Gould, ORISE Fellow
Lars Pomara, Ecologist
Scott Goodrick, Center Director, Supervisory Research Meteorologist
4854 - Eastern Forest Environmental Threat Assessment Center
4156 - Center for Forest Disturbance Science
Research Partners
Andrew Baker, Southern Region
Emrys Treasure, Southern Region
Shardul Raval, Southern Region
Gary Wood, Southern Region
External Partner
Southern Group of State Foresters