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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
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Forest Disturbance Processes

Fire and Fuels Research at the
Silas Little Experimental Forest

[photo:] Towers used at Sials Little Experimental ForestResearch Issue

The Silas Little Experimental Forest was reinstated using National Fire Plan funding in 2003 to conduct multi-disciplinary fire and atmospheric science research to provide fire and forest managers with better tools for predicting fire danger, fire risk, air quality, and ecosystem functioning under changing environmental conditions. 

Our Research

Current research efforts at the Silas Little Experimental Forest are strongly aligned with the Northern Research Station Climate, Fire and Carbon Cycle Sciences problem areas, Wildland Fire and Fuels Research and Development Core Fire Science portfolio, and goals of the National Fire Plan.  Specific research projects include:

Improving the monitoring and delivery of fire weather and fire danger information to State and Federal fire managers in the Pine Barrens.  

We installed and operate a network of ten fire weather towers, with data provided to users over the internet and at New Jersey Forest Fire Service Division B Headquarters.  Towers are located in the four major upland forest types (Oak/Pine, Pine/Oak, Pine/Scrub Oak, and Pine Plains), three of which are high fire risk areas.  Fire weather and fuel moisture data are transferred via wireless modems to the New Jersey State Climatologist Office, for posting on their website (; fast-loading fire weather page at, making this information accessible to fire managers and other users in real-time.  A SODAR (Sonic Detection and Ranging) system, which measures 15-minute average windspeed and direction profiles up to 700 m height, also has been operated on a walk-up tower at the Forest since July 2004.  These data are used by the Eastern Area Modeling Consortium (EAMC) in East Lansing, MI to test and develop MM5 mesoscale model predictions of fire weather indices (down to 1 km resolution for S. New Jersey).  Measurements are currently being integrated with fire weather predictions made by EAMC to produce a regional graphical fire danger rating system. 

Use of LIDAR systems and field measurements to characterize forest structure and fuel loading across the Pine Barrens. 

Extensive forest structure and fuel loading measurements made using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) systems and forest census techniques in the Pine Barrens provide fire managers with accurate information on hazardous fuel loads (Skowronski et al. 2007, Clark et al. in press).  Maps produced from these data allow accurate estimates of where fires have a strong probability of transitioning to the canopy, where they are much more difficult and expensive to suppress. Collaborative research with Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team (FERA) has led to the publication of a fuel photoseries for Pitch Pine dominated forests in the NE US (Wright et al. 2007).    Collectively, these research efforts assist fire managers quantify hazardous fuel loading and fuel characteristics at the landscape scale. 

Quantifying fuel consumption during hazardous fuel reduction treatments.

We use pre- and post prescribed fire measurements to measure the amount of understory vegetation and forest floor consumed during prescribed fires in stands throughout the Pine Barrens (Clark, et al. in press).  By tracking where prescribed fires have been conducted over the last twenty years, LIDAR and plot measurements are can be used to evaluate the effectiveness of hazardous fuel reduction treatments.  When integrated with information from fire weather towers and measurements of boundary layer dynamics (with the SODAR), these data are used to calculate smoke emission and dispersion.  We are also collecting data to use with BEHAVE to calculate emissions from prescribed fire treatments.

Quantifying the trade-offs between hazardous fuels management and carbon sequestration by forests. 

Three of the fire weather towers also measure eddy fluxes of energy, water and carbon dioxide, and we make extensive forest productivity measurements at each site.  In conjunction with fuel reduction measurements, this network can be used to interpret hazardous fuel treatments in the context of regional forest carbon dynamics.  Hazardous fuel reduction treatments are now mandated by the Healthy Forest Restoration Act of 2003, and our research helps clarify how management options result in tradeoffs between fuel reduction treatments, wildfire risk, and long-term C sequestration by these forests. 

Expected Impact

  • Improved monitoring and delivery of fire weather and fire danger information to State and Federal wildland fire managers in the Pine Barrens.  

  • Validated predictive models for fire weather and fire danger to assist wildland fire managers.

  • Accurate measurements of fuel loading in the Pine Barrens. 

  • Better understanding of the tradeoffs between hazardous fuel reduction treatments, wildfire risk, and carbon sequestration by forest ecosystems. 

Research Results

Clark, K. L., N. Skowronski, J. Hom, M. Duveneck, Y. Pan, S. Van Tuyl, J. Cole, M. Patterson, and S. Maurer.  2008.  Decision Support Tools to Improve the Effectiveness of Hazardous Fuel Reduction Treatments in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  International Journal of Wildland Fire, In press.

Hom, J., K. Clark, Y. Pan, S. Van Tuyl, N. Skowronski and W. Heilman.  Fire Research in the New Jersey Pine Barrens.  In, J. Qu, W. Sommers, A. Riebau, M. Kafatos, and R. Yang, eds. Remote Sensing and Modeling Applications to Wildland Fires, Springer-Verlag, In press. 

Skowronski, N., K. Clark, R. Nelson, J. Hom and M. Patterson. 2007.  Remotely sensed measurements of forest structure and fuel loads in the Pinelands of New Jersey. Remote Sensing of Environment 108: 123-129.  

Clark, K. L., J. Hom, and N. Skowronski.  2005.  Not So Barren (Summary of the NFP-funded project in the Pine Barrens).  Wildfire Magazine, May/June 2005, 14-17.

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Kenneth Clark, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Research Forester
  • Nicholas Skowronski, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Research Forester
  • John Hom, US Forest Service Northern Research Station - Biological Scientist

Research Partners

  • Warren Heilman, US-Forest Service- Northern Research Station Research Meteorologist
  • Maris Gabliks, State Fire Warden, New Jersey Forest Fire Service
  • Richard Lathrop, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ
  • R. Nelson, Goddard Space Center, NASA

Last Modified: 07/24/2009