I’ve traveled for work over 50 times in the 12 years I’ve been a “professional.” Some of the trips were to far-off exotic places (Rome, Alaska, Brazil), some were to some pretty awesome US places (Boundary Waters, Washington, D.C.), and many have been somewhat benign (Albuquerque, Sioux Falls, etc.). About a third of those trips were “field” trips, where the objective was to actually work in the field gathering data, either for map validation or for training data for future modeling efforts. It’s not very often I get to work in the state in which I actually live: Utah! This week I took the opportunity to do just that.
I’m working on an idea where we’d use remote sensing (satellite imagery) to model/predict the amount of vegetative cover present on a burn scar within a year or two or three of a fire occurring. The impetus of this project was a call from a hydrologist in Washington asking if I had any data to help them decide whether it was safe to open a campground at the base of a burned hillslope. The local forest gets pressure to open public land for public use, but the public rarely seems to consider the imminent danger posed by western thunderstorms and the repercussions of the sudden burst of water on a burned slope.
I’ve now visited 8 burn scars, took photos of the recovering land, and am working on building a model that will use satellite imagery to accurately predict the amount of cover present, therefore giving land managers actual data to help with their decision making.
This trip entailed a visit to the Clay Springs fire (between Oak City and Scipio), Lost Lake fire (on Boulder Mountain south of Teasdale), and the Wood Hollow fire (east of Fountain Green).
This was the view we had all day on Thursday … working on Boulder Mountain while looking across the valley at the red rock and trees of Thousand Lake Mountain. There are worse places to be, that’s for sure.
This was on the Wood Hollow Fire. They didn’t really burn much “timber” in the sense of large Ponderosa Pine or Doug Firs … mostly just juniper and cedar.
We came across entire hillslopes that previously held lots of juniper trees. They burned in the fire and must have experienced a good wind storm, because they were all knocked over. It was just weird enough that I kept on trying to figure out if they were mechanically knocked over, but there was no evidence of that.
We put a camera on a telescoping monopod and put it up in the air 25 feet looking down at us. These photos will be interpreted and we’ll have a % cover present number for each photo. This plot, even two years later, had little activity present.
This plot had a very active Aspen regeneration. None of these green trees existed in this form two years ago. Aspen frequently comes in after a fire and takes over the site for a number of years (like 20) until the conifers have time and opportunity to regenerate. This doesn’t always happen, of course, but is frequent.