Engineering fire-resilient forests: Understanding the potential for aspen to reduce wildfire hazard

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Across the western United States, wildfires are posing increasing costs to ecosystems and society. These trends present persistent challenges for managing community risk to wildfire and necessitate the implementation of active forest management practices that reduce wildfire hazard. One such strategy gaining interest in recent years is the expansion of deciduous forest types like quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx), which have been associated with less extreme fire behavior. However, it is unclear how these so-called “living fire breaks” may act to moderate fire behavior and under what conditions this is likely to happen. This presentation will focus on three objectives which are part of a larger on-going research agenda to address this knowledge gap: (1) creating new, high-resolution (10 m) maps of aspen forest cover across the Southern Rockies with seasonal Sentinel-1 and -2 imagery, (2) relating aspen forest composition to satellite-derived fire intensity, and (3) relating aspen forest composition to satellite-derived burn severity. It will also highlight future directions for the larger project funded by the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) which aims to provide actionable science to support management decisions around the use of quaking aspen for wildfire hazard reduction.