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Forest Ecosystem Dynamics Lab Research

Identifying and Protecting Wildfire Refugia in the Pacific Northwest

Illustration of wildfire refugia

Project Summary

Wildfires are common across the Pacific Northwest, however climate change is projected to cause increases in wildfire activity and severity. Wildfires create a heterogeneous pattern across the landscape from severely burned areas to unburned patches. Unburned areas that are associated with critical habitat where biota can persist (e.g., old growth forest) and/or can recolonize neighboring burned areas are defined as wildfire refugia. They provide shelter for a range of fauna post-fire and can reduce detrimental impacts on hydrology and erosion.  Therefore, management actions focused on maintaining or promoting these ecologically important areas on the landscape will be critical in the future, particularly under rapid climate change.

We have established a classification system for detecting unburned areas using satellite (Landsat) and ancillary geospatial data (e.g., topographic data) across the northwestern United States. In this current project, we propose to leverage this work to validate and apply our model to fires in a year with exceptional hot and dry conditions leading to an extreme fire year (i.e., 2015).  Second, we will translate our science findings to meet management needs by establishing a ranking system that assesses the importance of the unburned areas for resource management. Third, we will link unburned areas to surrounding landscape features and management actions, and develop decision-support scenarios for preserving or promoting unburned areas both existing (from prior year fires) and in future wildfires.

PI: Arjan Meddens (College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho)

Co-PI’s: Crystal Kolden (College of Natural Resources, University of Idaho) and Andrew Hudak (US Forest Service)


January 16-17, 2019

  • We organized a second workshop on fire refugia in Moscow, Idaho, part of a Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) project, see a summary of the outcomes of the workshop here.

October 15, 2018

February 12, 2018

May 17, 2017

  • We organized a workshop in Portland on managing fire refugia in the northwest, download the information sheet from this meeting here.

September 11, 2016

  • (Project start)
  • Read our recent publication related to this project: 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. (Contact me for a copy).