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Wildland Fire

Wildland Fire - Photo by U.S. Forest Service

Over the past several years the number and size of invasive grass induced wildland fires have grown at an alarming rate. The spread of invasive plants, especially grasses, has dramatically increased the spread of wildfire. The fire science and invasion biology communities have provided strong evidence related to the fire threats caused by certain invasive species and how the combined effects of these invasions and fires are changing fire regimes and invasive species distributions across the landscape. It is now well established that there is a feedback mechanism between invasive species and fire. For example, in the West, this is primarily a function of fire-tolerant invasive grasses spreading into landscapes which were previously much less prone to burning; where native plants did not provide a continuous bed of fine fuels but non-natives do. Hotter, drier conditions associated with changing climate make this problem more acute. These conditions, in addition to higher fuel loading resulting from a century of fire suppression, enable fires that have become larger, longer-lasting, more frequent, and more destructive in terms of lives lost and economic costs. (Source: National Invasive Species Council - Wildland Fire and Invasives)



  • Study Finds Drought Fuels Invasive Species after Wildfires

    • Feb 28, 2024
    • University of California, Irvine.

    • In a study recently published in the journal Ecology, "Long-term drought promotes invasive species by reducing wildfire severity," University of California, Irvine scientists uncover the intricate dance between drought, wildfires and invasive species in Southern California’s coastal sage scrub ecosystems.  Titled “Long-term drought promotes invasive species by reducing wildfire severity,” the research, led by Sarah Kimball, Ph.D., director of the Center for Environmental Biology at UCI, sheds light on the critical interplay of these factors and its profound implications for ecosystem health.

  • Fiery Invasions: Around the World, Flammable Invasive Grass are Increasing the Risks of Damaging Wildfires

    • Aug 4, 2023
    • American Association for the Advancement of Science. Science.

    • Fire-friendly grasses have invaded new habitats around the world. Five species (cheatgrass, cogon grass, gamba grass, molasses grass, and buffelgrass) are considered among the most problematic grasses, threatening to transform entire ecosystems.

  • How Swaths of Invasive Grass Made Maui’s Fires So Devastating

    • Aug 15, 2023
    • Smithsonian Institution. Smithsonian Magazine.

    • Scientists have long warned that Hawaii’s cover of nonnative shrubs is kindling waiting to burn.
      See also: Additional Invasive Species related articles

      Learn how the U.S. government is responding to the Hawaii wildfires affecting Maui and the Big Island.

  • Decontaminating Wildland Fire Equipment to Prevent the Spread of Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS): How to Guide [PDF, 1.7 MB]

    • Jun 2022
    • National Wildfire Coordinating Group.

    • This updated protocol is based on the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)’s 2017 “Guide to Preventing Aquatic Invasive Species Transport by Wildland Fire Operations” (PMS 444). The intent of this NRCG guide is to provide a more prescriptive protocol intended for a fire management audience, and to increase compliance and consistency of best management practices related to preventing AIS. The protocol applies to both ground operations and aviation and is mandatory in the Northern Rockies region. This protocol is demonstrated via a “How to Guide,” which includes detailed instructions for ordering, set up, and assembly of AIS decontamination stations; options for products/equipment based on site specific conditions; and best management practices for drafting water, which can prevent the risk of most AIS being transported or spread via wildland fire equipment. Fire management agencies in the west are taking the threat of AIS seriously and have committed to decreasing the possible risk of introduction and spread by fire management personnel.
      See also: Invasive Species Subcommittee which provides national leadership in the prevention of invasive species transport by wildland fire mobile equipment and related vehicles.

  • Defend the Core: Maintaining Intact Rangelands by Reducing Vulnerability to Invasive Annual Grasses

    • Jun 2022
    • ScienceDirect. Elsevier. Rangelands.

    • New geographic strategies provide the landscape context needed for effective management of invasive annual grasses in sagebrush country. Identifying and proactively defending intact rangeland cores from annual grass invasion is a top priority for management. Minimizing vulnerability of rangeland cores to annual grass conversion includes reducing exposure to annual grass seed sources, improving resilience and resistance by promoting perennial plants, and building capacity of communities and partnerships to adapt to changing conditions and respond to the problem with appropriate actions in a timely manner.

      Citation: Maestas JD, et al. 2022. Defend the core: maintaining intact rangelands by reducing vulnerability to invasive annual grasses. Rangelands. 000: 1-6.

  • When Climate Change and Invasive Species Intersect: Identifying Fire-Promoting Invasive Plants and Their Potential to Impact Hawai`i’s Natural & Cultural Resources

    • Mar 22, 2022
    • Pacific Islands Climate Adaption Science Center.

    • Across the Pacific, wildfire poses a major threat to biological and cultural resources, and the threat is only predicted to become larger with climate change. In this talk, graduate students Kevin Faccenda and Kelsey Brock discuss a new tool and methodology for predicting the fire risk of invasive species before they enter a region so that management efforts can be focused on the highest risk incipient species.

      This tool uses data collected from the primary literature as well as a machine learning model trained on expert survey data to predict fire risk. Their team examined this risk in a spatial context by modeling the distribution of multiple invasive plants and climatic conditions that promote wildfire across the main Hawaiian Islands. Models were created based on current-day climate conditions as well potential conditions at the end of the century to under climate change.

  • The Human–grass–fire Cycle: How People and Invasives Co-occur to Drive Fire Regimes (requires login 🔒)

    • Nov 15, 2021
    • Ecological Society of America. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.

    • Invasive grass species can alter fire regimes, converting native terrestrial ecosystems into non-native, grass-dominated landscapes, creating a self-reinforcing cycle of increasing fire activity and flammable grass expansion. Analyses of this phenomenon tend to focus on the ecology and geography of the grass–fire cycle independent of human activities. Yet people introduce non-native grasses to new landscapes (eg via agriculture), facilitate their spread (eg via road networks), and are a primary source of ignition (eg via debris burning). We propose a new framework for this phenomenon that explicitly recognizes the important role of anthropogenic activities in the human–grass–fire cycle. We review links between land use and invasive species as well as ignitions, with a particular focus on the spatial and temporal co-occurrences of these activities to show that these two drivers of wildfires are inextricable. Finally, management strategies that could mitigate impacts are discussed.

      Citation: Fusco EJ, et al. 2021. The human–grass–fire cycle: how people and invasives co-occur to drive fire regimes. Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment. 20(2): 117-126.

Selected Resources

The section below contains highly relevant resources for this subject, organized by source.

  • Invasive Grasses Promote Wildfire

    • Nov 9, 2019
    • University of Colorado Boulder. Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

    • Invasive cheatgrass, reviled by Western ranchers and conservationists, has long since earned a reputation as a firestarter, making wildfires worse and more common. Same with climate change: It's well understood that climate warming is making western wildfires worse. But it’s not just cheatgrass anymore, or just a warming West: a new analysis finds at least seven other non-native grasses can increase wildfire risk in places across the country, some doubling or even tripling the likelihood of fires in grass-invaded areas.

Federal Government
  • Fire Management and Invasive Plants: A Handbook

    • 2009
    • DOI. Fish and Wildlife Service.

    • Fire management can help maintain natural habitats, increase forage for wildlife, reduce fuel loads that might otherwise lead to catastrophic wildfire, and maintain natural succession. Today, there is an emerging challenge that fire managers need to be aware of: invasive plants. Fire management activities can create ideal opportunities for invasions by nonnative plants, potentially undermining the benefits of fire management actions. This manual provides practical guidelines that fire managers should consider with respect to invasive plants.

  • Wildland Fire in Ecosystems: Fire and Nonnative Invasive Plants

    • 2008
    • USDA. Forest Service.

    • This state-of-knowledge review of information on relationships between wildland fire and nonnative invasive plants can assist fire managers and other land managers concerned with prevention, detection, and eradication or control of nonnative invasive plants. The 16 chapters in this volume synthesize ecological and botanical principles regarding relationships between wildland fire and nonnative invasive plants, identify the nonnative invasive species currently of greatest concern in major bioregions of the United States, and describe emerging fire-invasive issues in each bioregion and throughout the nation. This volume can help increase understanding of plant invasions and fire and can be used in fire management and ecosystem-based management planning.

  • Fire and Invasive Weeds Resource Brief

    • DOI. NPS. Glacier National Park.

State and Local Government