High Noon for Forest Fires

Modelers aim to assist policymakers
Ground fire behavior in an open Ponderosa pine stand. (Photo: Kari Greer. Courtesy of the Northern Rockies Incident Information Center.)

Ground fire behavior in an open Ponderosa pine stand. (Photo: Kari Greer. Courtesy of the Northern Rockies Incident Information Center.)

Decades of fire suppression have put the Ponderosa pine forests of Eastern Oregon at risk. Despite being adapted to frequent low-intensity fire, they have accumulated high fuel loads. Forest managers must decide when to let low-intensity fires burn and where to invest in costly fuel reduction treatments.

With a $1.2 million grant from the National Science Foundation, Tom Dietterich, distinguished professor in the Oregon State College of Engineering, is leading a team of OSU researchers to develop computational methods for optimizing these forest management decisions. The team has developed the Oregon Centennial Fire Simulator, which predicts the consequences of management decisions over the next 100 years. With this grant, they will provide forest managers, landowners, timber-industry representatives and other stakeholders with methods for optimizing and then visualizing forest management policies. They will be able to improve those policies to address other concerns.

Dietterich and his team are also studying several problems of invasive species management. Like fire, invasive species spread across the landscape. Consequently many of the same mathematical and computational techniques can be applied to design optimal courses of action for controlling these invasions. The team will study three different invasive species that are threatening Oregon: tamarisk (salt cedar), cheatgrass and sudden oak death.

OSU collaborators include Ron Metoyer in Engineering and Claire Montgomery and Heidi Albers in the College of Forestry.

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