U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Joint Fire Science Program Project 08-S-09


US government work.


It has been almost 30 years since the last major book on the ecology and management of fire was published that contained extensive information from non-forested ecosystems across western North America (Wright and Bailey 1982). During subsequent years there have been notable books that have focused largely on forested ecosystems (e.g. Agee 1993), and there was one very recent book that addressed many important grassland, shrubland, woodland, and forest areas, but its geographic extent was confined to California (Sugihara et al. 2006). No single book has since matched the geographic scope associated with non-forested ecosystems in western North America as that previously addressed by Wright and Bailey (1982). Much has changed during the past few decades that warrant an updated synthesis of fire ecology in non-forested ecosystems. Exploding human populations and dramatic increases in the dominance of non-native invasive plants have led to increased fire occurrences and altered fire regimes that have catapulted fire management to the forefront of many lists of major threats to ecological and economic resources in non-forested ecosystems of western North America. As a result of this heightened concern, there has been a flush of new fire ecology studies that have in many ways altered previous thoughts about the inter-relationships between fire and vegetation in non-forested ecosystems. In addition, most fire science books have focused on the physical aspects of fire and their effects on soils, hydrology, and vegetation, but have not significantly addressed effects on wildlife. The role of fire management in the broader context of land management has also been underrepresented in most fire science books, even though fire management is probably more affected by various land use and agency policies than anything else. Recently there has also developed a greater appreciation for a long-term perspective of fire management, and the potential effects of future changes in climate and other atmospheric conditions that may confound fire management planning efforts. Land managers and others have been calling for more synthesis products that summarize the current state-of-the-science for major thematic and biogeographic areas, making the information more accessible and relevant to land managers. Recent years of record acreages burned, new incursions of invasive plants species, declines in many wildlife species, increasing human populations, new challenges related to land uses, and concern for how climate change may affect fuels and fire regimes in non-forested ecosystems of western North America have led many to call for an updated synthesis related to fire management in this region. The JFSP has heeded the call for synthetic fire science products in non-forested ecosystems, and funded a number of projects to help fill this void. However, none of these projects comes close to addressing the scope of our proposed book, which spans the entire Intermountain West and Southwest bioregions. For example, the most expansive JFSP project to date in a non-forested ecosystem is the SageSTEP project, but that project only focuses on a specific part of the Intermountain West, namely Great Basin sagebrush steppe and the sagebrush ecotones with juniper and pinyon juniper woodlands. In addition, that project is specifically focused on developing tools to manage pinyon-juniper and cheatgrass invasions and reduce their negative impacts on resource values, not on the broader issues of fire ecology and management over multiple non-forested bioregions. We are also aware of numerous other past and current JFSP projects that are relevant to our proposed book, and know of some proposals in development that will be submitted to the JFSP in the near future (e.g. a field study proposal to evaluate past postfire seedings in non-forested ecosystems and a literature meta-analysis to evaluate information in past ESR project reports). These other JFSP projects will no doubt produce useful products, but their primary emphases (and costs) are associated with implementing new research, not on carefully producing effective synthesis products.