Fighting Fire with GIS Technology

Fighting Fire with GIS Technology

This is the second of two posts about fighting fires with GIS. The series is completed with the American Sentinel University-sponsored webinar with Michael Tuffly.

When wildfires hit, rest-assure GIS technology is helping the U.S. Forestry Service and fire departments fight the fires. Many federal land management agencies  are using GIS technology to modify fire management plans in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States.

In this upcoming American Sentinel University-sponsored Webinar, Michael Tuffly, principal for Environmental Resource Inventory and Analyst (ERIA Consultants, LLC) will discuss how spatially explicit models are used to evaluate and quantify environmental impacts.

In this webinar, Tuffly will cover:

  • Fire hazard assessment
  • Soil erosion potential
  • Forest disease potential

Pine beetles linked to forest fires

You’ve most likely heard of the native Mountain Pine Beetle (MPB), but you probably didn’t know that it’s existence exacerbates fire hazard and soil erosion. MPB has caused large scale tree mortality in the western forests of the United States.  Once the trees are killed they become a stoked and ready furnace ripe for fire.  In addition these dead trees no longer hold soil on the steep mountain slopes, resulting in increased soil erosion.

The United States Forest Service (USFS) estimates  that MPB decimated 550,000 acres of forests in Colorado and Wyoming in 2010, bringing the total forested area in the United States destroyed to 4 million acres since 1996.

“The significance is that the trajectory is moving north and east into different forests,” Janelle Smith, spokeswoman for the U.S. Forest Service, said to the news agency Reuters.

In his work with the forest service, Tuffly used the USFS  data for tree mortality from MPB  coupled with an additional fire model created by National Interagency Fuels Coordination Group.  “From a forest management standpoint, once areas are identified  as high fire hazard, forest managers can implement forest fuel reduction, such as thinning and slope stability measures,” Tuffly says.

Preventing forest disease

GIS is also used in the identification of areas that are susceptible to invasive forest diseases. Using custom spatial models Tuffly ranked areas that may be prone to certain exotic forest diseases.

The State and Federal governments spend millions of dollars annually to prevent and remove exotic forest diseases. For example, in the eastern forests of the United States, the exotic Dutch Elm disease has decimated the American Elm.  In the western forest of the United States “white pine blister rust” has killed many millions of western white pine and sugar pine trees.  The lost of these trees has significantly altered forest and wildlife habitats.