U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 139, August 2011


US government work.


In the western United States, bark beetle outbreaks are at a record high—and of grave concern to forest managers and other stakeholders. There is a common belief that the high amounts of dead fuels produced by bark beetle infestations increase the chance of active crown fires. However, little is known about how bark beetle outbreaks and wildfire interact, and how that interaction influences the overall ecosystem structure and potential fi re behavior. To better understand bark beetle/wildfire dynamics, a study was conducted in beetle-infested areas of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE) in northwestern Wyoming and adjacent portions of Montana and Idaho. Key questions that were addressed include: (1) What are the current patterns of beetle outbreaks in the GYE at both broad and fine scales? (2) How do beetle outbreaks infl uence wildfire probability and severity? and (3) How does the pattern of fire-damaged trees affect the pattern and severity of beetle outbreaks? By using a combination of extensive field data collection, remote sensing, and computer modeling techniques, researchers were able to shed light on these questions as well as provide forest managers with the critical information needed to make science-based decisions regarding the current and future management of this complex, post-disturbance landscape.