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Links to:    Selected Publications     Congressional Testimonies


Scott L. Stephens

Professor of Fire Sciences

ESPM Department - Division of Ecosystems Sciences

University of California Berkeley 


Current Projects

Forest Structure and wildfire effects of Jeffrey pine-mixed conifer forests in the Sierra San Pedro Martir, Mexico


 One large, mixed conifer ecosystem exists in western North America where logging has never occurred and a policy of fire suppression did not begin until the 1970’s, this area is in the Sierra San Pedro Martir (SSPM) in northwestern Baja California. The SSPM is the southern terminus of the Peninsular Mountain Range that begins at the boundary between the San Jacinto and San Bernardino Mountains in California; approximately 350 km separates the SSPM from the San Bernardino Mountains. The SSPM is unique within the California floristic province in that its open forests are still influenced by lightning ignited fires. This research project has collected quantitative information on fire history and what types of forest structures (live tree densities, fuel loads, snag densities, regeneration) exist in a mixed conifer forest that has a disturbance regime which has not been effected by management, with the exception of livestock grazing.  Recent projects are quantifying the effects of a large 2003 wildfire in this area and determining if regeneration is correlated to past fires and climate; the spatial dimensions of regeneration are also being investigated.

Fire and Fire Surrogates Treatments for Ecological Restoration

Stephens and other UC faculty

The first 5 years of this project are completed with 12 of 13 national sites having installed all treatments and the network has determined the initial ecological effects of the fire and fire surrogate treatments. A second 5-year project will begin to examine the longer term ecological effects in 2008. This project addresses the problem that coniferous forests in many areas of California and other parts of the nation are denser and more spatially uniform, have many more small trees and fewer large trees, and have much greater quantities of forest fuels than did their presettlement counterparts.  The results include a general deterioration in forest health and sustainability, and an increased probability of large, high-severity wildfires. The need for large increases in the use of restorative management practices is clear.  Less clear, however, is the appropriate balance among silvicultural cuttings, mechanical fuel treatments, and prescribed fire. What components or processes are changed or lost, and with what effects, if fire "surrogates" such as cuttings and mechanical fuel treatments are used instead of fire, or in combination with fire?  States included in the network include California, Oregon, Washington, Arizona, Montana, South Carolina, Ohio, and Florida. Stephens is the principal investigator on the Sierra Nevada research site located at the University of California Blodgett Research Forest. More information can be found at http://frames.nbii.gov/ffs

Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project

Stephens and other UCB faculty, UC Merced faculty

 The goals of the research proposed here is to learn how to use an adaptive management and monitoring system to understand ecosystem behavior, incorporate stakeholder participation, and inform the implementation of adaptive management for Forest Service lands in the Sierra Nevada of California. The preferred alternative is to apply strategic fuel management at the landscape level. The approach is based on the theory (Finney 2001) that disconnected fuel treatment patches that overlap in the direction of the head fire spread reduce the overall rate and intensity of the fire. Despite the sound conceptual underpinning of strategic fuel treatments, there is uncertainty regarding their efficacy in modifying fire behavior and concern regarding potential impacts on wildlife and water resources. Scott Stephens and John Battles are leading the Fire and Forest Health module of this project.

 The three main questions will investigate address include modification of fire behavior across a fireshed, tree morbidity and mortality patterns associated with treatment design, and secondary effects of SPLATs on forest health through insect interactions. We expect that the strategic fuel manipulations will modify fire behavior in the treated fireshed as predicted by Finney’s (2001) model. In terms of tree morbidity and mortality across the fireshed, we expect that the management regime will improve tree growth and survival within the treated areas and the immediate edge environments. The removal of some fraction of the vegetation will reduce competitive stress on the remaining trees. However, the extent of improvements of tree health across the landscape will depend on the specific spatial arrangements of the treatments. At the local level, there may be instances where insect interactions in the residual forest left after the creation of SPLATs have a negative effect on tree health. For example, if mechanical methods are used alone to reduce small tree density and the resultant activity fuels (i.e., slash) is left on site, it could provide habitat for Ips beetles to multiply. Ips beetles can seriously injure and kill trees under outbreak conditions. Alternatively, if prescribed fire is used to consume natural and activity fuels, we expect red turpentine beetles to attack residual pine trees (ponderosa, sugar, and Jeffrey pines). Such attacks may predispose these trees to the often lethal predation of mountain and western pine beetles. Our tree measurement and monitoring program is designed to capture both landscape and local impacts on tree health. This complexity related to issues of scale and ecological interactions further reinforces the need for a strong adaptive management program to reduce the uncertainty associated with the implementation of SPLATs. More information can be found at http://snamp.cnr.berkeley.edu/

Congressional Testimonies

1) Fire Hazard Reduction (June 2000):   [Download]

2) Southern California Fires (December 2003)   [Download]

3) Sierra Nevada Forest Plan (February 2004)   [Download]


Last modified: 11 January 2007


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