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Forest Ecosystem Dynamics Lab Research

Identifying Trends and Resilience in Unburned Islands

Project Description

Wildfires are one of the greatest threats to human infrastructure and the ecosystem services humans value in the western US, but are also necessary in fire-adapted ecosystems. Wildfire activity is widely projected to increase in response to climate change in the Northwest, but we currently lack a comprehensive understanding of what this increase will look like or what its impacts will be on a variety of ecological and hydrologic systems. This project is addressing one critical part of those impacts: the islands of unburned vegetation within wildfires. Unburned islands occur naturally as wildfire burn across landscapes, and are important habitat refuges for species; places where plants and animals survive the fire and subsequently regenerate across the recently burned landscape. Since they are naturally resistant to burning, understanding how climate change impacts these islands will help us understand what species may be in even more from wildfires if these refuges disappear. Studying them and copying their characteristics can also help humans build our homes and communities to be more resistant to wildfire. This project aims to understand and model unburned islands within wildfires to inform both conservation and restoration planning and community wildfire protection planning efforts.

Illustration of wildfire refugia


Principal Investigators
  • Crystal Kolden (College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho)
  • Jim LutzĀ (Utah State University, Wildland Resources)
  • John Abatzoglou (Department of Geography, University of Idaho)
  • Arjan Meddens (Post-doctoral researcher, College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho)


This project was funded through the Northwest Climate Science Center


  • Meddens, A.J., Kolden, C.A., & Lutz, J.A. (2016). Detecting unburned areas within wildfire perimeters using Landsat and ancillary data across the northwestern United States. Remote Sensing of Environment, 186, 275-285.
  • Meddens, A.J.H., Kolden, C.A., Lutz J.A., Abatzoglou J.T. and Hudak A.T. (2018). Spatial and temporal patterns of unburned areas within fire perimeters in the northwestern United States from 1984 to 2014, Ecosphere 9, Article e02029, DOI: e02029.02010.01002.
  • Meddens, A.J.H., Kolden, C.A., Lutz, J.A., Smith, A.M.S., Cansler, C.A., Abatzoglou, J.T., Meigs, G.W., Downing.W., & Krawchuk, M.A. (in press). Fire refugia: What are they and why do they matter for global change? Bioscience.


Database of CBI (composite burn index) field data taken for this project. Data generated using jFIREMON software, data format is “.mdb” (MS Access database file). Please contact Arjan Meddens ( if you have questions when using this data.