Research & Projects
Core Research Areas
Center activities are organized around several key and inter-related core research areas. To learn more about our core research areas and projects, follow one of the links provided below.
Fire and water resources
Fire in Mediterranean climates
- 2015 LiDAR Workshop
- Fire Hazard Mapping
- Fire and Fire Surrogate Treatments for Ecological Restoration
The reason we worry about wildfires is primarily because humans have developed into fire-prone wildland areas. This situation poses a direct threat to those living in and along the wildland-urban interface (WUI). Past catastrophic losses due to wildfires impacting the WUI and the growing number of people living in these areas indicate that the problem is only getting worse. Directed by Steve Quarles, the Building in Fire-Prone Areas Program focuses on research and outreach related to reducing structure loss in the wildland-urban interface.
The UC effort in protection of homes and buildings located in WUI areas of California began with a research grant from the Office of the State Fire Marshal in 1997. The objective of this grant was to develop standard test protocols to evaluate the relative performance of exterior construction materials and assemblies. The resulting test protocols were subsequently used in the development of a largely performance-based building code, and incorporated as a new chapter in the California Building Code. As a result, we were also appointed to serve on the state-wide committee that developed the code, and in the state-wide education effort that accompanied code adoption and implementation during 2007 – 2008.
The new building code only applies to new construction. Therefore, another effort has been on outreach and education effort to homeowners already living in wildland urban interface areas. These outreach efforts have included assessments and workshops, including fire demonstrations, discussions of the fire performance of building materials and design, and the connection between building survival and management of near-home vegetation (defensible space).
We have also been instrumental in developing web-based tools for fire hazard mitigation and home vulnerability assessment. These efforts began in 2005 with a FEMA-funded project to develop and implement a science-based homeowner’s assessment as part of the Fire Information Engine Toolkit. This was motivated by the fact that, even in highly fire-prone areas, there are many steps that property-owners and communities can take to reduce fire risk. Identifying the fire hazards for a specific property or neighborhood can be difficult, however, because the public often does not have access to relevant information. The Toolkit was developed to help homeowners and communities better understand fire hazards at a local parcel level, using a science-based wildfire hazard assessment (also available in Spanish), search-by-address wildfire maps for California, and up-to-the-minute wildfire news; there are also other tools available for researchers.
- Fire Information Engine Toolkit
- Homeowner's Wildfire Mitigation Guide
- Fire Landscaping Guide
- Builder's Wildfire Mitigation Guide
- Web-based Virtual Tour of a Fire Safe Demonstration Building
Hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on vegetation treatments, with the stated goals of ecological restoration and reducing fire hazard. In many parts of the western US, these are reasonable goals, but often fuels-related treatments are based on untested assumptions or misperceptions. In many other ecosystems, it is not even clear how far fire regimes are from their natural ranges of historical variation. There is an urgent need for science-based guidance on this topic, and there are important opportunities for greater collaboration and leadership within this thematic area.
Key projects under this core research area are the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project and Carbon Sequestration, Fire Hazards, and Forest Management
Fire is a natural and vital process, and the long-term sustainability of many ecosystems is dependent upon periodic fires. Fire must therefore be considered in conservation planning, as well as our understanding of climate change.
While flood zones and earthquake faults are incorporated into urban planning and development guidelines, but this tends not to be the case for wildland fire. California is leading the way, however, in developing Fire Hazard Severity Zone (FHSZ) maps that highlight the most dangerous locations for development and link new, stringent fire-related building codes to these designated areas. As a collaborative effort with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection's (CalFire) Fire and Resource Assessment Program (FRAP) to identify and characterize burnability for wildland urban interface/intermix regions in California, as part of the FHSZ update. In addition, we developed a search-by-address web mapping application that made the FHSZ maps widely available.
Related work on fire weather patterns and past fire locations in California has led to development of new methods for mapping the severities and frequencies of fire weather episodes, critical information that is currently lacking.
The US Department of Interior and the US Department of Agriculture Joint Fire Science Program provided funding for a long-term study to understand the effects of alternative methods for fuel reduction and forest restoration. This Fire and Fire Surrogate Study is a large-scale, collaborative effort, with the Stephens Lab leading the effort at the Blodgett Forest Research Station in the central Sierra Nevada. For years, managers have recognized increased fire hazards in US forests have acted to reduce stem density and fuels by thinning, burning, and/or other vegetation treatments. Presently there is very little information on the ecological effects of these treatments, and this is the focus of the project.
This is a national study with 12 sites in 10 states (Montana, Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, Florida), and it has: 1) produced the best available information available on the ecological and economic effects of alternative fuel reduction methods; 2) feveloped national research site infrastructure that has already provided abundant opportunity for collaborative work; and 3) educated over two dozen fire ecologists and managers. Research papers have been used in hundreds of land management plans and have also been cited in the scientific literature a great deal (about 100 journal papers have produced from project).