MTBS is sponsored by the Wildland Fire Leadership Council (WFLC). WFLC has responsibility for overseeing implementation and coordination of the National Fire Plan and has developed a monitoring framework to evaluate the effects and effectiveness of the ten year NFP implementation strategy. Module 2.1 of this framework identifies the need to assess the environmental impacts of large wildland fires and identify trends in burn severity on all lands across the United States. In 2004, the GAO recommended the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management develop and implement comprehensive assessments of burn severity to provide consistent summary information characterizing the environmental effects of wildland fires and meet the requirements of WFLC.
MTBS is an interagency effort to be conducted jointly by the USDA Forest Service and the US Geological Survey. Resources and expertise at both agencies will be shared and equally committed to achieving the project objectives.
The primary objective of MTBS is to provide consistent summary information to WFLC on the location, extent and magnitude of burn severity on all lands in the US, including Alaska and Hawaii for the period of 1984 through 2010. This information will be summarized by area, administrative ownership, and vegetation type for both historical and current year periods. Additional summary strata will be included as requested by WFLC and may include fuel treatment areas and areas surrounding communities at risk.
The secondary objective of MTBS is to provide a set of high spatial and thematic resolution data consistently characterizing post-fire effects for every large fire in the US occurring between 1984 and 2010. These data will be readily available to the scientific and operational communities for use in assessment and monitoring at a range of analysis scales. The data legacy resulting from this project will serve information needs existing well beyond the scope of this project.
Partners and collaborators
The USDA Forest Service Remote Sensing Applications Center (RSAC) and the US Geoloical Survey National Center for Earth Resources Observation and Science (EROS) are responsible for developing and managing MTBS products and data. This partnership combines the data processing and analysis skills located at each center and takes advantage of the extensive Landsat data resources managed by EROS and the operational support capabilities in place at RSAC. A series of collaborators support project implementation by providing scientific oversight, operational perspective, product review, and additional analysis opportunities and capabilities. Key collaborators currently include scientists and practitioners from the National Park Service, research facilities in the USGS and USFS, and academic institutions including the University of Montana, University of Idaho, and Northern Arizona University. Expanded collaboration with other Federal and State agencies as well as with academic and private institutions will be developed through the course of the project.
Defining burn severity
Post-fire effects are characterized relative to a variety of landscape elements (e.g. soil, vegetation, and habitat). Effects on soil and above-ground biomass (vegetation) are often described using the same terms despite having potentially different implications to resource values and post-fire hazards.
In the MTBS project, burn severity refers specifically to fire effects on above-ground biomass. The reference definition is drawn from the NWCG Glossary of Wildland Fire Terms based on the term Fire Severity,defined as: “Degree to which a site has been altered or disrupted by fire; loosely, a product of fire intensity and residence time.”
In addition to this baseline definition, a number of other defining characteristics have been identified to help clarify the nature of MTBS data and information.
Existing and related burn severity mapping efforts
Within the federal land management agencies, burn severity has been assessed and mapped operationally for rapid response needs, and on a limited basis for longer term fire atlas compilation. Primarily, burn severity mapping has been conducted to support post-fire stabilization and rehabilitation efforts implemented through the Burned Area Emergency Rehabilitation (BAER) program. BAER team assessments rely in part on burn severity maps characterizing a combination of soil and vegetation burn severity shortly after fire containment. Methods have been jointly developed within the USFS and Department of Interior agencies to map burn severity from remotely sensed data to improve accuracy, efficiency, cost effectiveness, and the safety of producing burn severity maps for BAER teams. These methods are similar to those used in MTBS but applied for the specific purpose of rapid response burn severity data. See the Mapping Burn Severity document or go to Documents and References section for a comparison of BAER and MTBS mapping efforts.
The National Park Service has used similar methods to produce historical atlases of burn severity on several National Parks across the US. These maps depict extended assessments of vegetation burn severity and are the precedent for MTBS data on high priority incidents and do not provide for extended assessments on all fires nationally. Previous NPS data will be incorporated into MTBS.