LANDFIRE Landmark Birthday: 15 Years of Dynamic Collaboration

   

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In 2004 the Summer Olympics were held in Greece, the Spirit Rover landed on Mars, the Boston Red Sox won the World Series, and an important new program emerged from the increased concern about the number, severity, and size of wildland fires: LANDFIRE.

 

Now, in 2019, our landmark 15th year, LANDFIRE (Landscape Fire and Resource Management Planning Tools Program) continues to fulfill its charter to produce nationally consistent and comprehensive biological, ecological, and geospatial products and databases across the United States and insular areas. 

Over time, LANDFIRE has evolved from a program focused mainly on wildfire into a dynamic collaboration that supports environmental compliance work across organization and landscape boundaries, whether applications are fire-related or not. What follows is a glimpse at the power, functionality, and impact of LANDFIRE’s suite of data and tools during the last five years, beginning with an impressive award.



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ENVIRONMENTAL ACHIEVEMENT AWARD

 
Over time, LANDFIRE has evolved from a program focused mainly on wildfire into a dynamic collaboration that supports environmental compliance work across organization and landscape boundaries, whether applications are fire-related or not. What follows is a glimpse at the power, functionality, and impact of LANDFIRE’s suite of data and tools during the last five years, beginning with an impressive award.
Annually, the US Department of the Interior presents Environmental Achievement Awards that recognize employees, teams, and partners who have attained exceptional environmental achievements that go above and beyond the person's or team's regular, expected duties. In May 2018 it was announced that LANDFIRE received the Department's 2017 Environmental Dream Team award for being "environmental champions and agents of change who work across organizational boundaries to enhance environmental stewardship, create efficiencies, improve communication, avoid or address conflict at the lowest levels, or reduce environmental review times." To earn the distinction, LANDFIRE demonstrated that the program is unique in its approach; that it produces clear, repeatable results at national scale; and that those clear results improve DOI operations.


2014 - 2019


Since our celebration of LANDFIRE's 10th birthday in November 2014, LANDFIRE has continued its best practices: listening to user feedback, delivering updated and new products, completing a Biophysical Settings review and update, and undertaking a remap of the U.S. and insular areas. Here are highlights:
 
The LANDFIRE 2014 update, as with the 2010 and 2012 updates, was a vegetation and fuels mapping effort to update the base product suite, incorporating landscape change and disturbances (wildland fire, fuel and vegetation treatments, insects and disease, storm damage, and invasive plants) that occurred in 2013 and 2014. It includes responses to vegetation successional change in forested types and revisions to address discrepancies between map products and known field conditions.
 
Modeling Dynamic Fuels with an Index System (MoD-FIS) seasonal provisional products is a strategy LANDFIRE developed for mapping dynamic fuels by incorporating seasonal variability of herbaceous cover. MoD-FIS captures changes to fire behavior fuel models on current fire season herbaceous production. LANDFIRE currently applies two model-ready indexes of MoD-FIS to account for fuel's seasonal variability representing up-to-date conditions so that analysts can access current state data expressed through fuel availability in real-time to near real-time conditions.
 
LANDFIRE Remap is a comprehensive effort to remap the entire U.S. and Insular Areas, creating a new base map product suite representing circa 2016 ground conditions. Designed to produce vegetation and fuels data that inform wildland fire and ecological decision systems, LF Remap products offer significant improvements to all previous LANDFIRE versions. Five new products were added to the suite, along with a “capable fuels” ability that reduces the need for local LANDFIRE users to update vegetation and fuel conditions to represent recent conditions. LF Remap products are being released incrementally by region into 2021.
 
Biophysical Settings - LANDFIRE produced and delivered state-and-transition models for every ecosystem (Biophysical Settings, or BpS) mapped by the program during the first 10 years of the project. Together, the models and descriptions offer information about vegetation dynamics, structure, and composition on lands across the U.S. prior to Euro-American settlement. The TNC team has reviewed and updated the BpS product suite, and will deliver the results when LF Remap fire regime products are delivered for CONUS. Mean Fire Return Interval, Percent of Low-severity Fire, Percent of Mixed-severity Fire, Percent of Replacement-severity Fire, Fire Regime Groups, Vegetation Departure and Vegetation Condition Class are now attributes of this product in this and future releases.


Growth and Expansion: Applications


When evaluating ecosystem interactions and environmental concerns, it is critical to use detailed vegetation and environmental information. LANDFIRE provides regionally and nationally relevant data sets that support natural resource management and wildland fire user communities. In addition to the obvious focus on fire, thanks to the thematic depth of the data, the product suite has supported hundreds of local, regional and national applications from bees and bears and birds to longleaf and lodgepole pine to carbon accounting and climate change. A sample of applications can be explored on the Web Hosted Applications Map (WHAM!) and/or by doing an online search. Using Google Scholar, we caught a glimpse of recent publications and reports that indicate LANDFIRE products are being used widely.


While there is no way to perfectly capture how many people have used LANDFIRE products, or from where they hail, we can mine the internet for trends. Using software that extracts citations from Google Scholar, we explored LANDFIRE-powered citations from 2014-2019. After a bit of cleaning and sorting we found over 938 citations including Governmental Technical Reports, white papers and peer reviewed articles. Roughly 38% of the articles found had a clear “fire” theme. 

For Example ...

36th Biodiversity Hotspot Designation Informed by LANDFIRE Products. -- Jennifer Costanza uses LANDFIRE data sets on projects covering a wide range of applications, among which is the project that lead to the designation of the world's 36th Biodiversity Hotspot, the North Carolina Coastal Plain. 

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy is a collaborative process that includes the involvement of all levels of government and non-governmental organizations, and the public. LANDFIRE spatial data representing "All Lands" were a key component of the Cohesive Strategy data analyses that informed the development of the regional and national strategies.

Habitat Availability for Multiple Avian Species -- Due to differences in the responses of species to changing landscape patterns, developing a conservation plan with an optimal outcome of supporting contrasting habitat needs is essential. LANDFIRE data and modeling tools were used to evaluate alternative conservation strategies for five target bird species of local concern under each scenario.

Value of Wildland Habitat for Supplying Pollination Services to Californian Agriculture – Using LANDFIRE and other data, Rebecca Chaplin-Kramer and others outlined a method for quantifying the value of pollination services supplied by wild bee communities based on the area of nearby wildland habitats to pollinator-dependent crops in California, one of the largest agricultural economies in the world.

Meeting Army Training Requirements Using LANDFIRE – Tim Christiansen of the Army’s Integrated Training and Area Management program explains how using LANDFIRE data helps the Army meets its training requirements through management of habitat sustainability outside of "live fire" ranges.

Planning Tools Link to National Policy Scenarios – Alan Ager, USFS planning analyst who focuses on landscape management issues related to fuels management and wildfire uses LANDFIRE to look at community exposure, cross boundary wildfire, and production trade-offs among and within forest and regions.

Escape Route Index: A Spatially-Explicit Measure of Wildland Firefighter Egress Capacity – Michael Campbell and colleagues recently contributed the “Escape Route Index” to the science of wildland firefighter safety. The ERI essentially represents firefighter mobility, the potential for them to escape from potentially hazardous situations based on slope and vegetation, derived from LANDFIRE’s Existing Vegetation Type data. 

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​User Kudos

"It has been extremely rewarding to see LANDFIRE become a primary layer used by management in many planning activities. Some land management units use only LANDFIRE for spatial data products. They are critical inputs to the WFDSS package that is used universally on most wildfires To think that these layers may save lives and property is very gratifying." - Bob Keane

"LANDFIRE has the most consistent and I think best data available nationally on fire regimes, biophysical settings, and vegetative departures and dynamics. The data have been used extensively in a recently completed national assessment of all National Forest Service lands in the conterminous U.S."  - Dave Cleland

LANDFIRE's first national 'Encyclopedia of Ecosystems' has resulted in a staggering output of maps, and has been utilized for countless applications. Few computer models have proven as effective as the suite of tools LANDFIRE offers." - Matt Miller

"LANDFIRE provides a consistentset of valuable products that have greatly assisted our efforts in developing the region-wide Quantitative Wildfire Risk Assessment (QWRA). Vegetation and ecological conditions, fuel models, and other LF layers create a common operating picture for discussion among the multiple stakeholders involved in this QWRA. - Brian Schaffler

"LANDFIRE is one of The Nature Conservancy's best-in-class partnerships. Our TNC team has a track record of delivering stellar conservation results." - Joni Ward

"I see solid fire modeling in a lot of NEPA documents these days, and the availability of LANDFIRE data is a major reason for this improvement in fire assessments." - Alan Ager

"When you're trying to identify the best places to work in order to benefit wildlife, data and information is key. I draft up a potential habitat model fairly simply using LANDFIRE's Existing Vegetation Type, Height and Cover datasets. It's a starting place that I wouldn't have had without LANDFIRE." - Sarah Hagen

​Team Reflections

On LANDFIRE Teams

" When I think of LANDFIRE, I think of all of the dedicated people who make the project possible. Countless hours are spent in the creation of the products and the subsequent revision if any errors are found. It has been great to get to know the people who make the project possible."  – Josh Picotte

"To a person, the LANDFIRE staff are incredibly talented individuals who are exceptionally devoted to the cause and proud of the products. The team is smaller than it used to be and operating with a fraction of the budget when compared to earlier years - yet has totally stepped up to meet an aggressive Remap schedule. They are the unsung heroes of the program." – Jeff Hess

"As an academic scientist, I'd never seen such a comprehensive (and exhausting) process of applying many lines of evidence to meet a need – and yet, if done right, it would never really be 'done.' I'm struck by the team's exceptional willingness to share, test, and improve the products in partnership with data users.  Time to celebrate doing so many things right, for so many years!" – Kim Hall

 On LANDFIRE Products:

 "I've enjoyed watching LANDFIRE users take more and more ownership over the data throughout the lifetime of the Program from submitting plots to improve mapping to directly modifying the spatial data and BpS models to better suit their needs." – Kori Blankenship

"LANDFIRE data is making a difference and has the potential for even greater impacts. No data set is perfect, but LANDFIRE has accomplished much and provides great value." – Henry Bastian

"Effective decision-making is ultimately reliant upon people and data; systems and tools are helpful, but less important. LANDFIRE has really driven that point home for me. While not perfect, nor universally applicable, these products support a multitude of applications and create benefits we could never have anticipated." – Jim Smith

Looking Ahead


Building on the many ways that our products and people have facilitated change and growth, LANDFIRE 
  • reaffirms our purpose to develop and provide useful, relevant and timely data to inform land management decision-making and enable science-based applications.  
  • commits to responsive customer service in which queries are answered promptly and users are provided with valuable assistance.
  • will to continue to listen closely to feedback and suggestions in order to make appropriate improvements and changes based on user input.
  • will be part of, and sometimes drive, organizational change that recognizes its important role in geospatial mapping.

LANDFIRE remains dedicated to continual improvement through forming valuable partnerships, listening to customers, and developing new products and innovations to support future needs.

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