Posts Tagged: Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project
Over a dozen UC Agriculture and Natural Resources (UC ANR) California Naturalists, fire ecology experts, wildlife biologists, resource managers, educators, and artists met at UC Berkeley's Blodgett Forest Research Station and the adjacent El Dorado National Forest April 23 and 24, and not one of them complained about the much-needed deluge of rain and intermittent hail that soaked the group. The weekend's ambitious goal? To dive deeply into a UC California Naturalist Program and California Fire Science Consortium advanced training workshop on the subject of wildfire effects on Sierran mixed conifer forests.
With the 2014 El Dorado National Forest's King Fire as a case study, a mix of lectures, field studies, art, field journaling techniques, and Native American story telling were used to examine land management practices that influence fire behavior and explore how the landscape recovers from fire. UC ANR Cooperative Extension Central Sierra's forestry advisor Susie Kocher and community education specialist Kim Ingram organized and facilitated the workshop.
Blodgett Forest, situated on the Georgetown Divide in El Dorado County, was donated to the University of California in 1933 to provide a research site and practical demonstrations of forestry for students, forest industry, and the public. The adjacent El Dorado National Forest is home to the notorious September-October 2014 King Fire that burned 97,000 acres of forest, including 63,000 acres of public land. Aided by low relative humidity and wind, the fire spread quickly up the steep Rubicon River and surrounding subwatersheds. According to the incident report, approximately 46 percent of the burn area burned at a high and moderate soil burn severity, consuming all organic duff on the soil surface along with leaves and needles on standing live vegetation.
Workshop participants were treated to a lecture and field studies of basic fire ecology concepts by Scott Stephens, professor of fire science at UC Berkeley. Stephens lectured in class, and later demonstrated on a number of wet, lush forested treatment plots in the field, topics ranging from fire policy, fuels management options and objectives, and carbon sequestration to fire suppression consequences, fire behavior and severity, soil stability, and post-fire forest structure. Stephens is a researcher with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP), a long-term collaborative research project investigating how forest fuels thinning impacts fire behavior, fire risk, wildlife, forest health, and water. Fire is a vital to maintaining healthy California forests and ecosystems and Stephens's work demonstrates that both prescribed fire and its mechanical thinning replacements can successfully change forest structure and fuel loads, resulting in potential overall improvement of forest health. He finds that treated forest stands are more resistant and resilient to high-intensity wildfire and that these treatments have minor to negligible negative impacts on birds and small mammals, understory plant diversity, exotic plant invasions, and insect attack. Current and future research is in part focused on the impact and feasibility of treatments across the landscape.
Also joining participants was Sheila Whitmore from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Whitmore is the assistant project leader on SNAMP's owl team, which studies how fuel reduction treatments affect California spotted owl survival, forest occupancy, and reproductive success. The California spotted owl is one of three sub-species of spotted owls and the only spotted owl that has not yet been placed on the endangered species list, although its population is widely thought to be declining. Late in the evening, accompanied by Whimore, three nocturnal field technicians, and armed with tools of the trade like bird call whistles and flashlights, participants quietly slogged deep into the forest along the 22-mile system of El Dorado Irrigation District canals, listening for the territorial four-note hoot of the California spotted owl. While the crew eventually found one female owl on the night hike, the owl team has just started surveying breeding territories this spring and are uncertain how and if the owls will be impacted by the King Fire. Modeling efforts and a radio telemetry study seek answers to questions about demography, habitat, individual range size, and foraging preferences, given different levels of severity in burned forests.
Day two of the workshop, under warm sunshine, began with a discussion of Native American fire ecology and traditional stories shared by Kimberly Shiningstar Petree. Petree is a Tumelay Nissenan Miwok, the cultural preservation officer for her tribe, and the founder of the Cosumnes Culture and Waterways, a non-profit dedicated to promoting, preserving, and stewarding Indigenous Culture and waterways of their land. As told by a descendant of the first stewards of the area's forests and a carrier of an ancient oral tradition, the fire stories that Petree shared with the group were both relevant to today's fire management practices, and moving, setting a positive tone for the rest of the day.
Patricia Trimble, El Dorado National Forest's Georgetown district ranger, and Laurie Wigham, illustrator, painter and art teacher, accompanied participants on field activities. Trimble took participants on a road-based tour of the King Fire, demonstrating the effects of low, moderate and severe fire on the landscape. She shared information on consequences of long-term fire suppression, fire impacts, Forest Service strategies for protecting cultural resources, forest replanting and erosion abatement efforts, National Environmental Policy Act regulations, and public perception of fire. More than seven months after the fire, the Forest Service has just opened the burn back up to the public, and the public was out in force mushroom hunting, fishing, and cutting firewood within the high severity areas of the King Fire.
Wigham thoughtfully braided art and field journaling techniques seamlessly into the stops along the way. She shared inexpensive and novel ways to document the landscape in a group or individual setting at difference scales. She offered low-tech tricks to help participants deepen their ability to absorb dense and technical information, observe nature closely and scientifically, and to connect with feelings about a place and time in nature.
Lectures, field study, art, field journaling techniques, knowledge sharing, and Native American story telling: supported by a solid framework of current science topics and research results, they all had their place in this advanced training workshop. Each individual piece of the fire ecology workshop was enriching and informative, and forced participants to move deeper and more thoughtfully into their understanding of the dense topic than they might on their own. The regeneration of the El Dorado National Forest after the King Fire will undoubtedly provide inspiration, research, and education opportunities far into the future.
The UC California Naturalist Program uses a science curriculum, hands-on learning and service to inspire stewardship of the state's natural resources. The public and UC-certified Naturalists alike may sign up for future California Naturalist Advanced Trainings here.
Because management projects in contentious natural resource contexts often involve finding reasonable compromise or shared understandings between participants, the success (or failure) of such management is partly about communicating information. Techniques for public participation continue to evolve in order to facilitate a more comprehensive flow of information to, from, and between diverse audiences.
The Internet is part of this evolution: web-based tools provide information exchange between diverse participants and stakeholders about complex environmental systems. But how effective are these tools and do they facilitate the flow of information required in adaptive management? Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management at UC Berkeley, and Lynn Huntsinger, professor in ESPM at Berkeley, and graduate students Shasta Ferranto, Ken-ichi Ueda and Shufei Lei examined the role of the web in facilitating public participation through a case study - the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) - a participatory adaptive management project focused on Forest Service vegetation management treatments in California’s Sierra Nevada with a participatory website.
Analyzing three years of website traffic data from Google Analytics, researchers found that the SNAMP website received over 71,000 unique visits from the United States and other countries. Site traffic peaked when quarterly “web updates”- emails sent out to stakeholders with information about the project and any updates - were sent. The data from an email survey conducted by the SNAMP Public Participation Team in 2010 showed that most survey respondents (72.2 percent) had visited the website. Email survey respondents also agreed that the website helped them keep up with SNAMP events, increased information transparency, was easy to use, and was a good source of information. The web also played a small, but important role in public consultation, by providing a discussion board for targeted questions and feedback between the public and SNAMP scientists. However, Internet technology did not actively support the two-way flow of information necessary for mutual learning. It complements, but does not substitute for, face-to-face interactions and public meetings; does not facilitate three-party conversations very well; and has a very small user base to generate sufficient online content and dialogue.
Based on this case study, public participation is most effective when a combination of participatory tools are used, including the web, public meetings, active outreach, and open channels of communication for reaching a broad pool of participants needed for social networking. Website design should be adaptive, and website evolution and maintenance should be budgeted ahead and funded. User needs assessments are necessary to understand how the users collaborate and interact during the life of a project.
Full Reference: M.Kelly, S.Ferranto, K.Ueda, S.Lei, and L.Huntsinger. 2012. Expanding the table: the web as a tool for participatory adaptive management in California forests. Journal of Environmental Management 109: 1-11.
‘Visualizing’ forests from computer and other technological data is common practice in the field of forestry. Forest visualization is used for stand and landscape management and to predict future environmental conditions. Currently, most visualization software packages focus on one forest stand at a time (hundreds of acres), but now we can visualize an entire forest, from ridge top to ridge top. The Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) Spatial Team principle investigators Qinghua Guo, associate professor in the UC Merced School of Engineering; Maggi Kelly, UC Cooperative Extension specialist in the Environmental Science, Policy and Management Department at UC Berkeley; graduate student Jacob Flanagan and undergraduate research assistant Lawrence Lam have created cutting-edge software that allows us to visualize the entire firescape (thousands of acres).
Our new forest visualization software begins by pulling out individual trees from the point cloud. From these individual trees, we extract the tree height and width data. Canopy base height data helps describe the shape of each tree. Then, each individual tree is modeled, and the whole forest is constructed. Visual details such as needles or smooth edges can be added in. This helps to provide a more realistic perspective of the forest than from point clouds alone.
A forested landscape in the Sierra Nevada (left: a photograph taken with a camera) compared to lidar derived virtual forest (right: simulated scene based on the actual location of trees, tree height, and crown size derived from our lidar data, minus the rocks in the lower left-hand corner)
Forest visualization with lidar is useful for helping us understand the complexities in forest structure across the landscape, how the forest recovers from fuels reduction treatments, and how animals with large home ranges might use the forest.
These images, created from lidar data, are still two-dimensional, and thus they lack a sense of depth. To alter that, we have been actively working to bring the created virtual forest into the 3D realm that we are accustomed to seeing in movies or television. Our proposed 3D system relies on stereoscopic imaging to allow individuals to see in 3D. Stereoscopic imaging refers to an optical illusion created by allowing two offset images to be seen by the viewer’s two eyes, independently. The difference in perspective between the left eye and the right eye causes the brain to process the image with depth, which is how current active stereoscopic images are produced in movies or television. By utilizing the fact that the projected forest is virtual, we can then render two offset images to create a new stereoscopic object. From there, a 3D TV easily overlays the two images on top of the other, alternating an image for the left and then right eye, creating an illusion of 3D and depth for the viewer. Again, these visualizations are not of simulated forests, but of our real Sierra Nevada forest, with every tree in the correct place with respect to the other trees, and seen with the correct height.
- SNAMP website: http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/
- SNAMP Spatial Team: http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/teams/spatial
- SNAMP Research Briefs (where some of the lidar research has been published): http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/news/categories/research-briefs/
UC scientists with the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP) are investigating the uses of Lidar (light detection and ranging) in providing detailed information on how forest habitat is affected by fuels management treatments across a large landscape. Mapping forest structure can illustrate how a forest influences surface hydrology, provides for wildlife and how a forest might burn given certain weather and wind patterns. This research is proving useful in wildlife studies, water quantity and fire modeling and forest planning.
Airborne lidar works by emitting a light pulse from an emitter onboard a plane towards a ground target. A portion of the light is reflected back to the airborne sensor and recorded. The time between sending out the light pulse and receiving it back is converted into distance.
This data, along with GPS information on the aircraft’s exact position and orientation, allows scientists to calculate the height of a target and create 3D maps of the forest vegetation and the bare ground. Raw lidar data is first received as a ‘point cloud’ which consists of millions of points from which meaningful and detailed measurements can be extracted.
Some of the current SNAMP research focuses on developing new methods to detect and delineate individual trees from the point cloud even in complex mixed conifer forests and rugged terrain. The SNAMP spatial team recently published a method that maps all the trees in the forest with 90 percent accuracy. The individual tree identification method identifies trees from the tallest to the shortest and is especially useful in mapping wildlife habitat. For example, the SNAMP spatial and California spotted owl teams collaborated using lidar to map large trees and canopy cover in spotted owl territories. These areas are often hard to identify and map over large areas. Lidar data was used to measure the number, density and pattern of large trees in areas used by the spotted owl. These kinds of data can be used to understand the forest habitat of other bird species and in Pacific fisher research. Below is a short video on the exploration of a lidar point cloud down to an individual tree:
Our goal is to provide methods to map the forest in detail, and thus to help forest managers anticipate the impacts of management decisions.
Images by SNAMP Spatial team/Kelly Labs, UC Berkeley
The team first got bags of socks from the local high school, and then grocery bags of socks started appearing in a local drop off bin. Soon boxes of socks started arriving by mail. They came from all over California and as far away as Oregon, Nevada, Minnesota, Arkansas and Maryland. The boxes just keep coming: 12 one day, 16 the next, 185 at last count!
During one visit to the post office at Christmas time, we had to roll the bin to the car. Other customers standing in line were trying to hide their envy of our good Christmas fortune!
The wildlife piece of this SNAMP forest study continues, along with our other scientific teams, to look at the effects of the U.S. Forest Service’s thinning projects in the Sierra. These projects are done in our national forests for fire protection and forest health. Our scientific research teams from the University of California are here to look at changes these thinning projects bring to the forest, its water cycle and its wildlife. This collaborative effort is part of state and federal efforts to refine management practices for our beautiful and complex forested ecosystems.
We have collected years of baseline data and welcome the forest thinning work that has begun this summer in both the southern site near Oakhurst and the northern site near Forest Hill. We will continue to follow the movements of the fisher over the next few years to learn more about their responses to the forest management efforts.
But in the meantime, six newspaper stories and four radio interviews later, we stand in awe of the power of the media and social networks. So, for the many cards, letters and emails we got sharing the stories behind the socks, from the drawers of loved ones who passed away to Earth Day projects for school kids, our wildlife crew is buoyed by your thoughts and support! Our faith in people’s attention to kind details in life is renewed! Thank you!