Climate Change and Fire May Impact Northern Alaska Caribou Herds

Boundary Fire near the Canadian border 2005 (Photo: Tony Chapman, BLM Alaska Fire Service)

Will climate-driven changes in fire regime affect the Porcupine Caribou Herd? Caribou actively seek out and rely on high-energy lichen-rich habitats in the winter, and these lichen stands–also known as “caribou moss”– are uniquely sensitive to fire, requiring 60-100 years to recover after burning. Alaska climate modelers and biologists teamed up to study predicted annual acreage burned in the ranges of two northern herds: the Central Arctic Herd and the Porcupine Caribou Herd (of Arctic National Wildlife Refuge fame). Using newly developed models of wildfire response to climate changes, Gustine et al. (2014) modeled burn acreage in the next few decades under two possible climate trajectories: let’s call them “warm” or “hot”. Under the “warm” scenario they found little change through 2090 in the total old-growth habitats available to caribou of either herd. However, the “hot” climate scenario indicated fires grew larger, increasing average area of winter habitat that burned per decade. In brief, the Central Arctic Herd lost 11% of their winter habitat and the Porcupine Herd lost 21% through 2090 under the “hot” scenario. In addition, 30% of the Porcupine Herd’s current spruce forest habitat changed to a younger forest type or tundra. While biologists continue to debate how much habitat is required to sustain herds at present levels, habitat loss is rarely beneficial and availability of old-growth lichen stands is a big driver of caribou use patterns in most Alaska herds. If we humans have the power to rein in the pace of climate change to the “warm” scenario by slowing our greenhouse gas emissions, the caribou would probably appreciate it. This short illustrated paper is open access—read the whole research article at:

http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0100588

Citation: Gustine, D.D., Brinkman, T., Lindgren, M., Schmidt, J.I., Rupp, T.S., and Adams, L.G., 2014, Climate-driven effects of fire on winter habitat for caribou in the Alaskan-Yukon Arctic: PLOS One, v. 9, no. 7 100588, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0100588

November 2011 Fire Science Publications

Can’t seem to stay up to date?  Let us do some of the work. 

We’ve put together a bibliography of November’s (plus or minus a few weeks) new fire science publications related to Alaska and the boreal forest.  Download a simple bibliography or an annotated version, both in a pdf format including URLs for each reference.  Just want the highlights? We showcased a few of our “Top Picks” below. 

November 2011 Fire Publications – Bibliography (pdf)

November 2011 Fire Publications – Annotated Bibliography (pdf)

Our “Top Picks”

Werth, Paul A.; Potter, Brian E.; Clements, Craig B.; Finney, Mark A.; Goodrick, Scott L.; Alexander, Martin E.; Cruz, Miguel G.; Forthofer, Jason A.; McAllister, Sara S. 2011. Synthesis of knowledge of extreme fire behavior: volume I for fire managers. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-854. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 144 p.

 

 

 

 

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JFSPBrief_ALFRESCO1

New JFSP Brief – Rising Temps Trigger Ecological Changes in the Boreal Forest of Alaska

Key Findings:

1.  Understory or overstory Composite Burn Index (CBI) ratings for 10 fires were not substantially affected by slope aspect, and elevation, but for two of the fires, results related to timing, or burn season, were significant.

2.  Within the next 50 years, simulation results indicate that boreal forest vegetation will likely shift from primarily spruce-dominated to deciduous-dominated.

3.  Despite the shift to less flammable species, simulation results predict an increase in fire frequency and number of acres burned annually.

4.  ALFRESCO model simulations and changes in the projected cumulative area burned suggest a general rise in fire activity through the end of this century, with the most rapid change in fire activity occurring in the next 20-30 years.

READ MORE of this summary….

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“Projected Vegetation and Fire Regime Response to Future Climate Change in National Parks in Interior Alaska”

Excerpt from: Loya, W., Springsteen, A., Barnes, J., and S. Rupp. Projected Vegetation and Fire Regime Response to Future Climate Change in National Parks in Interior Alaska. Alaska Park Science 10:1 (22-25).

Climate change presents a significant challenge to managing our natural and cultural resources. Ecological models that project effects of climate change on plants, animals, and other system components can be used by managers to understand how these effects will impact park resources.

Alaska LANDFIRE Calibration Workshop

The Alaska LANDFIRE Calibration Workshop will be held in Fairbanks, Alaska on November7-10, 2011.

View the full Calibration Workshop Announcement.

This workshop is dedicated to evaluating the 2008 LANDFIRE Refresh data related to fire behavior fuel models across all of Alaska. Fuel layer maps and rule sets specific to the 13/40 and Canadian Fuel Models will be reviewed by map zone.  This is your opportunity to provide feedback and make this a better product for Alaska!

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2011 Alaska Fire Science Workshop

The 2011 Alaska Fire Science Workshop will be October 6-7 at the  BLM – Alaska Fire Service office on Fort Wainwright, AK.  This year’s workshop will cover topics ranging from new fire behavior modeling tools, to effects of changing fire regimes, to communicating fire science through art.

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