GIS tool to help foresters target wildfire prevention efforts

GIS tool to help foresters target wildfire prevention efforts

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As parts of the Western and Southwestern United States prepare for wildfire season, which experts predict again will be severe, researchers at University of Buffalo (UB) and the U.S.Department of Agriculture are developing a new software tool to use GIS to help forest managers optimize efforts to prevent wildfires.

The new tool uses GIS to help managers better target when and where to implement preventive fuel-management activities, such as thinning, logging, mulching and the setting of prescribed or controlled fires.

The new capabilities are being added to an existing software package called GeoWEPP (Geo-spatial interface for the Water Erosion Prediction Project) that the UB team developed with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service and the Agricultural Research Service over the past three years.

While that version of the software focused on helping land managers assess where to target soil and water conservation measures following a fire, the new capabilities will help managers plan their fuel-management efforts to reduce the risk of wildfire and its adverse environmental and economic impacts.

The tool includes a feature called the “weather generator,” which can generate different climate-change scenarios based on an extensive climate database, far into the future.

Users will be able to assess how a wildfire with various burn severities will affect specific watersheds and their surroundings 50 or 100 years from now, based on multiple climate scenarios that statistically are likely.

The result, he said, is that users are able to generate climate-change scenarios far into the future, and to see how various scenarios of wildfires or spatially distributed prevention activities may impact a watershed’s hydrology, as well as its vegetation, runoff, erosion, sedimentation and other factors over the course of 50, or even 100 years or more.

Using the software, natural resource managers then can implement different prevention and post-fire strategies that will better serve the environment in the long term by modifying scenarios that bear a high risk of environmental damage.

The software will be able to provide a temporal context for management measures so that managers not only know where to implement them but when.

It also provides tools to assess scenarios very quickly through easy access to national GIS databases, a critical advantage.