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Short-course: Fire in the earth system. Causes, impacts and management (co-organized)
Convener: Paulo Pereira  | Co-Conveners: Jorge Mataix-Solera , Artemi Cerdà , Agata Novara , Xavier Ubeda , Saskia Keesstra 
Mon, 18 Apr, 15:30–17:00

Fire is a natural phenomenon in earth ecosystems. In fact, the earth is the planet of fire, since earth evolution would not be understandable without the visit of the flames. Many ecosystems depend on fire impact and it is strongly recognized that several species only germinate in pyrophyte environments. Fire is an important aspect for biodiversity in many ecosystems. Human activities during the Anthropocene strongly changed fire regimes, with tremendous impacts in the environment. A good example of this is the Mediterranean bioma, which cannot be understood without the fire presence. Since the last quarter of the XX century, rural exodus, lifestyle changes, the incorrect forest management (pine and eucalyptus plantations), fire policies (increase of fire suppression and the criminalization of the fire use as a management tool) and the global warming, contributed to the increase of the frequency of high severity wildfires. These wildfires have tremendous environmental, social and economical costs. The impacts on the ecosystems are very high and their capacity to recover is strongly reduced. In addition, wildfires, have negative impacts in the economy of the local communities. Fire can be a bad master or a good servant, depending on how we understand and manage it. One thing is clear, it is impossible to extinguish fire from nature. The capacity of recuperation of the ecosystems strongly depends on the management of the burned areas, and several times, the human intervention is not the best option and can degrade the fragile post-fire environments. The aim of this course is to give an overview about the current causes of fire occurrence, impacts on the ecosystems and management of burned areas.


Gary Sheridan
Senior Research Fellow, Forest Hydrology Research Group
School of Ecosystem and Forest Sciences, The University of Melbourne,

Field methods for post-fire runoff and erosion research

Wildfire alters soil, vegetation, and catchment properties and can result in dramatic changes to hydrogeomorphic processes. A range of methods are available to measure and monitor post-fire impacts; ring and tension infiltrometers, water repellence tests, fluorescent and beryllium-blue dye techniques, rainfall simulators, rill erosion simulators, sediment traps, open and closed-top natural runoff and erosion plots, sediment tracing, LiDaR and structure from motion imagery, field survey, stratigraphy, and in stream sampling and sensing. In this workshop session, the practical advantages and disadvantages of these techniques will be explored using real examples from post-fire research in the Mediterranean, Australia, and North America.

Lee H. MacDonald
Senior Research Scientist and Professor Emeritus, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO USA.

Joseph W. Wagenbrenner
Assistant Professor, Michigan Technological University, Houghton, MI USA.

Peter R. Robichaud
Research Scientist, USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station, Moscow, ID USA.;

Effects of Post-fire Salvage Logging on Runoff and Erosion at Different Spatial Scales and over Time:
Does it Help or Hurt?

After severe wildfires there often is pressure to capture the economic value of burned trees through salvage logging. This practice is highly controversial, as proponents claim that logging can speed recovery by reducing soil water repellency, using logging slash to increase surface cover, and accelerating forest restoration through planting. Opponents claim that logging can exacerbate post-fire runoff and erosion by compacting the soil, increasing net precipitation and snowmelt rates, and hindering regrowth. In this presentation we use a process-based approach and 2-9 years of field data from a series of recent studies to show: 1) how post-fire salvage logging affects key processes; and 2) how these individual effects can be aggregated to better predict changes in runoff and erosion at both the plot and small watershed scales.

Xavier Ubeda
Department of physical geography and regional geographical analysis. University of Barcelona, Spain.

Forest Management with Prescribed Fire

Prescribed fire is the planned use of fire under predetermined weather, fuel and topographic parameters to achieve clearly defined objectives. The practice was introduced in Europe to control fire regimes by managing fuel, counteracting the disappearance of biomass-consuming land management practices and reducing the overall fire risk.

The prescribed fires done by the GRAF team (Forest Action Support Group) since 1999 in Catalonia have been different objectives as the elimination of fuel that can generate a High Intensity Fire, to facilitate the regeneration of particular plant species, conservation of biodiversity, improve habitat of mammals, promote recreational use and allow animal entry on grazed shrublands. Controlled burns can also serve as a valuable aid for training fire-fighting personnel. Prescribed fires can have different impacts on soils, water resources, biodiversity, the risk-reduction of wildfires but many of the impacts can be positive including soil fertilization, the preservation, and restoration of valued shrubland habitats.

Still, prescribed fires are a controversial management tool. For this reason, researchers must study its effects to reduce potential negative impacts at all levels. How the intensity of the prescribed fire may damage the vegetation and soil system; how often these controlled fires can be applied in a the same place or for example, how the land use is important in terms of planning a prescribed fire for managing.

The objective of the Course is to show how the prescribed fires were conducted and the results of this technique in the landscape and the possible effects on the environment.