Date of Award:

12-2019

Document Type:

Thesis

Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)

Department:

Watershed Sciences

Advisor/Chair:

Patrick Belmont

Co-Advisor/Chair:

Edward Hammill

Third Advisor:

Larissa Yocom

Abstract

Historically wildfires have been beneficial to forests, however, human developments have encroached on forests when wildfire was artificially suppressed by federal and state agencies. The area burned by wildfire each year has increased twenty-fold in the past three decades. Large, high severity fires pose increased threats to human and aquatic communities within and downstream of the burned area due to post-wildfire effects on flooding and sedimentation. We need to understand the impacts of wildfires to be able to mitigate their damages and to recognize their potential benefits. This research addresses the questions: 1) Do wildfires impact rural and urban economies differently and what are managers doing to adapt management strategies? 2) Do floods increase after wildfire, and if so, by how much? 3) Do wildfires affect fish habitat, and if so, how?

Chapter 2 provides insight into both positive and negative economic impacts on rural and urban economies after a wildfire, and brings to light manager’s inability to change their management strategies due to constraints such as budget limitations. Chapter 3 measures how floods change in nine basins after a wildfire occurred, and reveals that floods may increase up to 880 percent after a fire. Chapter 4 demonstrates that fish habitat is significantly altered after wildfires and why change is harmful to the fish. This work shows that wildfire significantly changes the burned and surrounding area, and that more work is needed for a better understanding of how to predict how a specific area will respond to wildfire.

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