Climatic and Human Impacts on Fire Regimes in Forests and Grasslands of the U.S. Southwest

EPA Grant Number: R828732
Title: Climatic and Human Impacts on Fire Regimes in Forests and Grasslands of the U.S. Southwest
Investigators: Morehouse, Barbara J. , Christopherson, Gary L. , Orr, Barron J. , Overpeck, Jonathan T. , Swetnam, Thomas W. , Yool, Stephen R.
Institution: University of Arizona
EPA Project Officer: Chung, Serena
Project Period: November 1, 2000 through October 1, 2003
Project Amount: $1,260,993
RFA: Assessing the Consequences of Interactions between Human Activities and a Changing Climate (2000) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Global Climate Change , Climate Change , Air


This project seeks to improve ecosystem health and sustainability in the Southwestern United States through developing a better understanding of the effects of interactions among climate, human activities, and wildland fire. The project provides a unique means for assessing how human factors combine with natural processes to affect fire regimes - and thus ecoystem sustainability and biodiversity - under different climatic and biotic contexts.


Where existing fire models focus almost entirely on biophysical factors, fire behavior, and weather conditions, this project involves development of a GIS-based model that integrates data from dynamical and empirical natural and social science models. It also includes institutional and discourse analyses of non-quantitative factors influencing decision making. The integrated model will be applied, together with knowledge gained from the institutional and discourse analyses, in a comparative case study of the Chiricahua, Huachuca, and Santa Catalina Mountains in Arizona, and the Jemez Mountains in New Mexico. A crucial component of the project will be iterative interactions with fire and ecosystem managers, including model testing. The final products of the project will be introduced at a symposium for managers and researchers, scheduled to coincide with fire management planning and budgeting for the 2003 fire season.

Expected Results:

Our integrated model is explicitly designed to be used for making wildland fire management decisions for individual seasons, in the context of risk over decades of future climate, land use, and social change. The research products will be made available through an innovative new map server on a University of Arizona Web site. Informational materials will also be produced for distribution to the general public and/or displayed in visitor centers, etc.

The integrated model will enhance our understanding of the complex human and natural forces contributing to fire regimes in the Southwest, allowing for better-informed decision making among fire and resource managers. The project provides a means for reducing risk to ecosystem sustainability, biodiversity, as well as to human settlements and activities, and provides an indispensable foundation for future development of improved process-based models. The project addresses the EPA-designated high-priority area of "Ecosystems." By integrating human land-use factors in the context of climatic variability and biotic conditions, the project specifically addresses the question, "How might climatic changes, in combination with changing land-use patterns, affect forest health, biodiversity, and ecosystem function?" In exploring the interactions between human activities, weather events and fuel load conditions, the project also provides the spatial and temporal specificity needed to address the question, "How might land-use choices increase or decrease ecosystem vulnerability to extreme weather events?"

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 70 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 5 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

vulnerability, terrestrial ecosystem, integrated assessment, regionalization, scaling, public policy, logging, tourism and recreation sectors., RFA, Scientific Discipline, Air, Geographic Area, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Southwest, Ecology, Environmental Chemistry, Ecosystem/Assessment/Indicators, Ecosystem Protection, climate change, State, Forestry, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, environmental monitoring, logging, ecological exposure, biodiversity, human impacts, New Mexico (NM), fire models, recreatioonal stress, grasslands, ecological impacts, climate models, Arizona (AZ), fire regimes, climate impacts, environmental stressors, forests, GIS, fire regimes in forests and grasslands, climate variability

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2001 Progress Report
  • 2002 Progress Report
  • Final Report