Managing Fires in Arizona's Sky Islands

Friday, November 15, 2013

Recognizing the central role fire plays in the ecology of Arizona's sky islands, University of Arizona researchers, public lands managers and other stakeholders are working together to address forest health on a landscape scale.

The relationship between fire and ecosystems has been altered or disrupted by human activities since the late 1800s. The resulting build-up of fuels has led to much more severe wildfire behavior in many ecosystems. Most fires continue to be suppressed, making the fuel problem even worse. Also, mitigation efforts like controlled burns have been small-scale and under-funded.

Enter FireScape, a comprehensive effort that brings together representatives from the UA, the U.S. Forest Service, The Nature Conservancy, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service and other southeastern Arizona land managers.

The lead scientist for FireScape, Donald A. Falk of the UA's School of Natural Resources and the Environment in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, says working at on a large enough scale and restoring fire as a natural process are the keys to the effort.

"We're taking a landscape approach to understanding fire in the sky islands. That was the origin of the whole idea," Falk said.

Sky islands are essentially mountain "islands" – forested mountain ranges separated by vast expanses of desert and grassland plains. They are among the most diverse ecosystems in the world

"Land managers do small-scale forest thinning treatments and prescribed burns, a few tens of acres here, a couple hundred acres there, and that's important, but the problem is getting things to add up to a landscape scale, which really matters for wildfire in ecosystems," Falk said.

Extensive sheep and cattle grazing since the 1800s, active fire suppression during the last century and an ever-increasing population have changed the region's forests. Now, the focus has shifted to restoring the ecological health of the sky islands.

Read more from this November 15 UANews article at the link below.

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