California Fire Station Goes Experimental
Making a vast forest landscape fire-safe is a tall order. To tackle the challenge, the U.S. Forest Service focuses its fuel reduction efforts on areas it deems most likely to burn and fuel a larger blaze. Work underway at Sagehen Creek Field Station, which recently became the Forest Service’s first new experimental forest in 40 years, could help support these efforts. The approach is known as strategically placed area treatments, or SPLATs. The problem is, until recently there’s been no way for researchers to study SPLATs’ effectiveness.
For CNR professors John Battles and Scott Stephens, the Tahoe National Forest—home to the Sagehen station and an example of severe forest fire risk—is a perfect setting for a major, multi-year collaborative investigation into the impacts and effectiveness of Forest Service SPLATs. That’s because Sagehen boasts a wide range of new sensors and communication systems, and comprehensive data sets compiled over more than half a century.
Over the last two seasons, Battles’ and Stephens’ research crews have conducted in-depth vegetation and forest-fuel surveys throughout the watershed. Their goal is to compare the SPLAT design created with extensive ground and remotely-sensed data to a more common design approach that is done operationally, with much less information. They are also working with the Truckee Ranger District to model the effectiveness of various SPLAT designs in order to determine which one best meets the goal of reducing landscape-level fire severity.
Their results will provide more than a published assessment of SPLATs. Now that Sagehen has become a part of the federal experimental forest network, it will provide opportunities for collaboration that will directly translate research into better field practices. As Steve Eubanks, forest supervisor for the Tahoe National Forest, explains: “Experimental forests are places where our managers can come out and work with researchers, so we don’t just read about an experiment’s results three or four years down the road.”