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Influences of forest roads and their edge effects on the spatial pattern of burn severity

Abstract

Previous research has shown that forest roads are an important feature in many landscapes and have significant effects on wildfire ignition and cessation. However, forest road effects on burn severity have not been studied at the landscape level. Therefore, the overarching goal of our study is to identify the influences of road edge effects on the spatial patterns of burn severity. We analyzed six fires within the Okanogan–Wenatchee National Forest on the eastern slope of the Cascades mountain range of central Washington. We generated two categories for assessing road variables: (1) Primary Road Effect Zone (area within 150 m of the nearest road) and (2) Secondary Road Effect Zone (area from 150 m to 300 m to the nearest road). A regular sampling grid including one out of every 9 cells was created for each fire. These grids were intersected with burn severity data in the form of the Relative Differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR), road distance category, stream distance, elevation, slope, terrain shape index, heat load index, canopy cover, and fuel type. We fit spatial regression models with RdNBR as the dependent variable. We found that high burn severity is less likely to occur in the Primary Road Effect Zone for most fires, although one fire exhibited the opposite relationship. Forest road edge effects were hypothesized to be an important determinant of burn severity because fragmentation created by roads alters the roadside fuel profile and environment and because road corridors create barriers to fire spread. Recognizing roadside effects on burn severity patterns highlights the need for further study of the range of effects that roads have on fuels and the fire environment and the potential for incorporating road effects into landscape-level assessments of fire risk.

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