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UM News
July 29, 2011


Scientists from The University of Montana, Brigham Young University and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station have received a $450,000 grant from the Joint Fire Sciences Program to study linkages between fuels and fire behavior in shrub lands.

Principal investigator Carl Seielstad, a professor in UM’s Department of Forest Management, will use laser scanners to build 3-D models of sagebrush and chamise shrub fuels.

“Relatively little scientific attention has been given to wildfire behavior in shrub lands of the interior West, even though they are some of most dynamic fuel beds in the region,” Seielstad said. “Grasses and shrubs occupy about 75 percent of vegetated area in the western U.S., and these landscapes have experienced a seemingly large number of firefighting accidents.”

Seielstad will work with Thomas Fletcher, a chemical engineer at BYU who is developing and testing fire models for shrub fuels in a state-of-the-art burn chamber. The team also will include David Weiss, a research forester from the Forest Service Fire Sciences Lab in Riverside, Calif., who has extensive experience in fire modeling of shrub fuels.

“The digital data taken from live vegetation is helping us build fire models that more successfully simulate how fire moves through shrub lands under a variety of conditions,” Seielstad said.

Fire managers use information from fire models to make decisions about how to keep firefighters safe and to develop successful management strategies and fuels treatments.  Fire dynamics are changing quickly in shrub lands because of invasions by exotic plants such as cheatgrass. By fundamentally understanding how fire moves through shrubs and grasses, it may be possible to anticipate these changes using fire models such as the ones developed in this study.

Seielstad is part of the National Center for Landscape Fire Analysis at UM, which links scientific and technological developments with wildland fire and land management. The Joint Fire Science Program is an interagency research, development and applications partnership between the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.



Western Montana, dailies


Contact: Leana Schelvan, UM College of Forestry and Conservation, 406-243-6777,