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ESA 2020: Social and Ecological Challenges

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Presentation from the 2020 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), which took place online August 3-6, 2020.
Click the link above to view the recording of this presentation


Social and Ecological Challenges of Severely-Burned Landscapes
Anne Bradley, The Nature Conservancy

In 2011, the Las Conchas fire burned over 61,000 ha in northcentral New Mexico. Along with its size, it was noteworthy because of its severity, leaving patches of severely burned patches reaching up to 16,000 ha. The burned watersheds and subsequent monsoon rains threatened local communities and impacted water quality for downstream cities. Much of the burned landscape is not expected to naturally reforest for decades, if at all. Current forest and fire management are directed primarily to prevent undesirable wildfire events from occurring. While this is unquestionably an important focus for land managing agencies, communities and land managers are now questioning whether addressing the risk and impacts before and during fire are sufficient. Social impacts of deforested landscapes include chronic hazards from debris flow and flooding, impairment of watershed function and loss of important cultural landscapes.

In New Mexico in the wake of the Las Conchas Fire, The Nature Conservancy and our collaborators have identified gaps in both immediate and longer-term response to conditions in the postfire environment. We have initiated a Burned Area Learning Network to assist with postfire problem-solving and to provide a catalyst to encourage science, practice and policy development that can improve the ecological and social outcomes after severe fire. Network participants have developed a series of objectives that emphasize pre-fire planning to improve postfire actions. These include:

  • Improve the efficiency and accuracy of short and long-term post-fire risk assessments.
  • Improve inter and intra-agency relationships and develop more cohesive interagency strategies [for post fire response] during cross-jurisdictional fires.
  • Expand the range of immediate post-fire rehabilitation and longer-term restoration tools and improve their execution.
  • Integrate short term and long-term objectives for burned area management.
  • Advance engagement of the public in pre-fire planning for post-fire actions.
  • Create an adaptive feedback mechanism to effectively incorporate existing and new information into pre-fire planning and post-fire actions.

New science like that emerging for burned area reforestation will enhance our ability to assess where and how managers should invest their tree-planting efforts on burned lands to effectively contribute to recovering important social and ecological values.