University of Idaho Research Assesses Ecological and Social Impact of Extreme Wildfire in Northern Rockies

Tuesday, July 19 2011

MOSCOW, Idaho – University of Idaho and Washington State University researchers recently received $ 1.2 million from NASA to support a study of ecological and social impacts of extreme wildland fires in the U.S. Northern Rockies region.

The Northern Rockies region is commonly affected by large-scale wildfires that impact people’s lives and property. However, several unknowns exist of how plants and people recover from extreme wildfire events.

“It’s essential that research needs to focus on not just working out the size and impact of extreme fires and hurricanes on vegetation, but also how they affect the local and regional social communities that live there, too,” said Alistair M.S. Smith, assistant professor of forest measurements in the University of Idaho College of Natural Resources.

Smith is leading an interdisciplinary team comprised of CNR and WSU scientists who will use intensive satellite data, community case studies and policy analysis to understand the relationship between wildfires and their ecological and social effects on people over time.

The new three-year grant builds on support from the Idaho EPSCoR program and Kurt Pregitzer, dean of the College of Natural Resources.

“They both provided me with the means to both explore interdisciplinary initiatives and to purchase equipment that was leveraged to get the NASA award,” said Smith.

“The Idaho EPSCoR program is delighted to see such talented researchers win this major award,” said Peter Goodwin, Idaho EPSCoR project director. “EPSCoR is all about building the intellectual capacity in our state, fostering collaborations, and positioning our science community to pursue high-impact research such as this.”

In addition to Smith and Professor Matthew Carroll of WSU, University of Idaho scientists Troy Hall, Beth Newingham, Penny Morgan, Eva Strand and Jeffrey Hicke took the lead in developing the project.

“We are very pleased to have this work funded. From a social science perspective, we are confident this project will advance our understanding of the societal effects of large wildfire events,” said Carroll. “It also will help communities living in the wildland-urban interface become more knowledgeable and better equipped to address the risk and the reality of wildfire in an era of global change.”

“We anticipate the knowledge gained from this project will be of interest to the NASA's Earth Science Applied Science Program,” said Smith. “The research should enable increased use of satellite observations for ecosystem monitoring and disaster management by land managers.”
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About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s land-grant institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year. The University of Idaho is classified by the prestigious Carnegie Foundation as high research activity. The student population of 12,000 includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars, who select from more than 130 degree options in the colleges of Agricultural and Life Sciences; Art and Architecture; Business and Economics; Education; Engineering; Law; Letters, Arts and Social Sciences; Natural Resources; and Science. The university also is charged with the statewide mission for medical education through the WWAMI program. The university combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities and focuses on helping students to succeed and become leaders. It is home to the Vandals, and competes in the Western Athletic Conference. For more information, visit