International Cooperation in Boreal Forest Fire Research: The IBFRA Stand Replacement Fire Working Group


International Cooperation in Boreal Forest Fire Research:
The IBFRA Stand Replacement Fire Working Group

Stocks, B.J., J.G.Goldammer, M.Fosberg, S.Conard, and E.Valendik. 1996.

Int. Forest Fire News No.15, 54-58.

The Stand Replacement Fire Working Group (SRFWG) was one of the first working groups created under the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA), and to date it has been the most active. Following an organizational meeting in Siberia in 1992, the IBFRA SRFWG has strongly promoted and facilitated cooperative international and multi-disciplinary boreal forest fire research between Russia and western boreal countries. A number of collaborative studies dealing with global change/fire issues, remote sensing, fire behavior, fire danger rating, fire history and fire ecology and effects have been initiated. A major conference and field campaign was carried out in central Siberia in 1993, with follow-up research activities in 1994 and 1995. Major cooperative fire experiments in 1997 in northern Canada and 1998 in central Alaska are in the advanced stages of planning, while further interdisciplinary fire experiments in Siberia are being planned in conjunction with a major IGBP Northern Eurasia Study.

Introduction: Forest fire has been the dominant disturbance regime in global boreal forests for millennia, shaping and maintaining these ecosystems to the point that boreal forests naturally require forest fires to exist. Fire-adapted boreal conifer species now live in classic fire-dependent ecosystems, requiring periodic, large-scale, stand-replacing fires to maintain their existence. Development of the world’s boreal zone over the past century has resulted in boreal countries creating fire management strategies that attempt to rationalize recreational and industrial interests, and concern for public safety, with the natural role of fire in boreal forests. Although North American and Eurasian boreal countries have been substantially isolated for many decades by political differences, they have developed similar fire management strategies, that have been successful in limiting fire impacts in high-value areas while permitting, intentionally or otherwise, fires to exert their natural dominance over much of the global boreal zone. This is particularly true in northern Canada, northern Siberia, and large areas of Alaska. Intensive forest management in Scandinavian countries has, conversely, virtually eliminated fire from boreal ecosystems in Sweden, Norway and Finland.

Although North American and Russian fire research and fire management specialists had sporadic contact during the past four or five decades during the Cold War, the relaxation of political tensions in the 1990s presented the opportunity to pursue cooperative fire research initiatives. Following the “White Sea Declaration” that resulted from the 1990 International Symposium on Boreal Forests in Arkangelsk, Russia, the International Boreal Forest Research Association (IBFRA) was formed in 1991 at a meeting of Russian, American, and Canadian representatives in Mezhgorje, Ukraine. Two priority research areas (Inventory, Monitoring, and Classification of Boreal Forests, and Global Climate Change and Ecosystem Function of Boreal Forests) were established at that meeting. Each research area was to be supported by a number of working groups, and the first to be established under the Climate Change/Ecosystem Function Research Area was the Stand Replacement Fire Working Group (SRFWG). Although the IBFRA framework has been expanded to currently encompass three research areas, the SRFWG, now under the Ecosystem Function, Anthropogenic Impacts and Global Change Research Area, remains one of the most active of IBFRA initiatives.

Stand Replacement Fire Working Group Guiding Principles: Members of the SRFWG met for the first time in May 1992 in Krasnoyarsk, Russia to develop a number of hypotheses that would guide future cooperative research initiatives between Russian and western forest fire scientists. The approved general hypothesis is as follows:

“Given that North American and Eurasian boreal forests have similar ecosystem processes, the causes and consequences of variability in fire regimes are similar and easily transferable among the boreal forest ecosystems of Canada, Russia, and the United States of America.”

Under this general hypothesis eight specific hypotheses were developed to focus research activities in future years. These hypotheses dealt with fire behaviour, fire ecology, ecosystem processes and response to fire, climate change and fire, and the spatial and temporal distribution of large fires. These specific long-range hypotheses envisioned international, multi-disciplinary research teams conducting a coordinated and sequenced series of experiments addressing these issues (Fosberg 1992)

While the IBFRA SRFWG was formulating research strategies, a concurrent initiative was underway to promote cooperative fire research activities between Russia and western countries. In 1991 two western fire scientists visited Krasnoyarsk and toured fire operations sites in Siberia (Pyne 1992). Among their recommendations following that trip, they proposed an international fire conference and field campaign in Siberia in the near future. During the SRFWG organizational meeting in Krasnoyarsk in 1992 it was decided that sponsorship and participation in this conference and field experiment should be the first priority of the SRFWG,and both events were scheduled for 1993.

Research Activities to Date: During the summer of 1993 an international conference was held in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, bringing together a large number of fire research scientists from Russia, North America, Europe and China for the first time. This conference “Fire in Ecosystems of Boreal Eurasia”, financially sponsored by the Volkswagen Foundation, aimed to present, discuss and publish the state of knowledge on fire in boreal ecosystems, with special emphasis on Eurasia. Over 40 papers dealing with many aspects of fire ecology, fire behavior, fuels classification, fire meteorology, modelling and global change were presented. The proceedings were published as a monograph (Goldammer and Furyaev 1996; see page xx of this volume).

Following the Krasnoyarsk Conference a field experiment, Fire Research Campaign Asia-North (FIRESCAN) was organized under the joint sponsorship of the IBFRA SRFWG and the IGBP International Global Atmospheric Chemistry Project (IGAC). The purpose of FIRESCAN was to conduct a high-intensity stand replacement fire under controlled conditions, permitting Russian and western fire scientists to compare research methodologies while monitoring the fire, and during preburn and postburn measurements. Specific objectives included documenting fire behaviour relative to prevailing weather conditions, characterizing prefire and postfire vegetation and fuels, chronicling the fire history of the site and the surrounding landscape, characterizing trace gas and aerosol emissions within the smoke column,and establishing a number of research plots on the site for long-term follow-up research on ecosystem responses (mortality, recovery, succession, biological diversity, nutrient cycling, soil respiration, and carbon accretion) following a high-intensity fire. The preliminary and complete results of the Bor Island Fire were published in 1994 and 1996 (FIRESCAN Science Team 1994, 1996). In addition, many papers dealing with FIRESCAN were presented at the IUFRO XX World Congress in Finland (IUFRO 1995)

In the summer of 1994 a small group of fire scientists from Russia, Canada, Germany and the USA returned to Bor Forest Island to conduct first year mortality measurements and to establish additional permanent ecological sampling plots. A number of permanent plots were also established on another, less-intense fire that occurred in 1992 near the Angara River. Further measurements were made at these sites in 1995 and 1996. Plots at both locations will be monitored periodically for many decades.

A NOAA AVHRR satellite downlink was established in Krasnoyarsk in 1994, permitting much better coverage of large fire activity, particularly in the more remote regions of Siberia where previous coverage was scant. During the summer of 1994 ground-truthing was carried out on four large 1992 fires in central Siberia, evaluating the accuracy of NOAA AVHRR imagery in mapping the areal extent of large boreal fires.

An evaluation of the performance of the Canadian Forest Fire Danger Rating System (CFFDRS) in Russia was also initiated in 1994. Fire scientists in Krasnoyarsk are cooperating with Canadian fire researchers to assess the suitability of the CFFDRS in the Russian boreal zone, particularly Siberia. Analysis of ten years of weather data from the Krasnoyarsk Region was undertaken in 1994.

Cooperative efforts in the area of forest fire behaviour modelling were also initiated in 1994. The Canadian government translated a large Russian book “Mathematical Modelling of Forest Fires and New Methods of Fighting Them” by Anatoly Grishin of Tomsk University. North American fire scientists visited Grishin in Tomsk in 1994 to establish linkages for future collaborative research activities, particularly the physical modelling of high-intensity crown fires. An international conference “Mathematical and Physical Modelling of Forest Fire and EcologyProblems”, was held in Tomsk in July 1995. A number of North American fire modellers participated, and the conference proceedings are being published (Grishin and Goldammer 1996).

Future Activities: During the early summer of 1997 fire scientists from Canada, Russia, the United States and Germany will conduct a series of high-intensity experimental crown fires in a Pinus banksiana forest in the Canadian Northwest Territories. The purpose of these fires will be to advance the state of knowledge of fire behavior modelling. Detailed instrumentation will be used in an attempt to fill some of the critical gaps that exist in adequately modelling high-intensity fires. Burning plot establishment and detailed preburn fuel sampling was carried out at this site in 1995 and 1996. A number of collaborative publications will result from this cooperative international undertaking.

A comparison of the spatial and temporal distribution of large Russian and Canadian boreal fires will be undertaken in 1996, using both statistical and remote sensing data. With the new NOAA downlink fully operational in Krasnoyarsk, and with the Internet greatly enhancing data sharing capabilities, Russian and western fire scientists will cooperate in determining the extent and impact of large boreal fires, concentrating on the previously unmonitored remote regions of Siberia. This will require cooperative evaluation of NOAA AVHRR satellite imagery, and a sharing of technology and research capabilities. Ground-truthing, through higher-resolution satellite imagery and airborne mapping, will continue. In addition, field tests are planned in the development of a new fire sensor recently launched on the PRIRODA platform and incorporated in the MIR Space Station.

The appraisal of the suitability of the CFFDRS for use in Russian forests will continue in 1996, analyzing fire weather and fire danger patterns across Russia for the 1980-95 period. In addition, near real-time mapping of fire danger levels in Russia will be demonstrated, using daily weather transmitted over the Internet. If interest warrants it, a proposal to implement the CFFDRS in Russia will be written and submitted to various funding agencies.

In the summer of 1996 the United Nations seminar “Forests, Fire and Global Change”, sponsored by the Russian Federation and the FAO/ECE/ILO Team of Forest Fire Specialists (with many SRFWG members), was held in southern Siberia. The goals of this seminar included assessments of the extent and damages caused by wildfires throughout the world, the development of standardized methodologies for collecting and archiving fire data at a global scale, and the development of mechanisms for international cooperation in fire and disaster management (see report on p.xx of this volume).

Planning is also well underway for a whole watershed prescribed burn, scheduled to take place in central Alaska in the summer of 1998. Entitled FROSTFIRE, and co-sponsored by the IBFRA SRFWG, this experiment will involve conducting a high-intensity 700 hectare prescribed fire on a catchment of the Caribou-Poker Creek Experimental Watershed just north of Fairbanks, Alaska. This catchment consists of steep north-facing slopes dominated by Picea underlain by permafrost, and steep south-facing slopes where Betula predominates. Hydrological measurements have been conducted at this site for decades, and will be continued after the fire as part of a suite of fire impact studies which will include detailed fire ecology and effects investigations. Thorough fuels and fire behaviour documentation will permit linkages between fire behaviour (fuel consumption/intensity) and postfire impacts. This will be a long-term study, closely linked with the Long Term Ecological Research (LTER) Program in the United States.

Additional fire experiments will be conducted jointly with scientists collaborating in the IGBP Northern Eurasia Study. It will be a joint effort of scientists representing several IGBP Core Projects, the Biospheric Aspects of the Hydrological Cycle (BAHC), International Global Atmospheric Chemistry (IGAC), and Global Change and Terrestrial Ecosystems (GCTE) Projects. The unifying theme of the IGBP Northern Eurasia Study is the terrestrial carbon cycle and its controlling factors, and the study’s overall most important objective is to determine how these will change under the rapidly changing environmental conditions projected under global change (Steffen and Shvidenko 1996). The IGBP Northern Eurasia Study will consist of an integrated set of experimental and observational studies at a number of scales, modelling and aggregation activities, and supporting databases and GIS capabilities. The major elements are transects and network sites, a water, energy, and carbon flux study, and detailed studies of disturbance regimes.

The fire component of the IGBP Northern Eurasia Study will have four components: (i) fire manipulations at individual forest sites; (ii) a series of campaigns based on aerial and spaceborne research platforms; (iii) the construction of a fire database, relating the frequency, extent, and intensity of fires to vegetation and climatic conditions for present and historic conditions; and (iv) development of aggregated models of forest fire frequency and extent, responsive to global change variables.

First, fire will be used as a treatment in manipulative experiments at intensive study sites within transects. These experiments will measure the effects of fire on successional vegetation dynamics, particularly on the composition of the regrowth forest, and will determine the effects on soil and vegetation nutrient dynamics. Special attention will be given to the effects of fire on permafrost sites, and to the emission characteristics and black carbon formation of peat fires and other less-explored forest fuel types.

Second, more research campaigns similar in framework to FIRESCAN and other IBFRA/SRFWG initiatives are required to couple air and spaceborne measurements of biogenic trace gas and aerosol emissions with pyrogenic sources. The newly established NOAA AVHRR receiving stations in Krasnoyarsk, Yakutsk and Khabarovsk will play an important role in identifying fires in real time or on post-campaign reconstruction.

Third, given the importance of fire in long-term and large-scale ecosystem dynamics, a comprehensive, ecologically-oriented fire database for Northern Eurasia is essential. This database will build on the National Resources GIS developed by the Russian International Forestry Institute and should include, in a geographically-explicit format, the timing, areal extent, frequency, and intensity of fires, as well as the state of vegetation and the climatic conditions associated with each fire. A strong component of paleo-fire and fire history research will link information from tree ring fire chronologies and densitometric analyses with palynological and charcoal data in peat layers and lake sediment cores. This project will be a major inter-Core Project link, providing the base for reconstruction of past fire regimes.

Fourth, the ultimate goal will be the development of a model of changes in fire frequencies and patterns with global change. Such a model must be responsive to natural disturbances such as lightning, and to fire patterns caused by socio-economically-driven land use changes.


The past five years have been very productive for the Stand Replacement Fire Working Group of the IBFRA. Recognizing the necessity of operating within an international, multidisciplinary framework, the IBFRA SRFWG has forged close cooperative relationships with the IGBP community, with the UN Team of Forest Fire Specialists and the International Union of Forest Research Organizations, and is a co-sponsor of the International Forest Fire News. Many of the goals outlined at our initial meeting are being realized. Cooperative field programmes have been initiated, and conferences and meetings have been organized to promote exchanges of information and ideas. There is strong reason to be optimistic that this progress will continue, as Russian and western fire scientists have much in common and many things to learn from each other. Funding difficulties present some obstacles, but computer networking, and the strong desire of fire scientists to work together, offsets this problem somewhat. Cooperative international boreal forest fire research is now a reality, and the future looks promising.

This summary paper is a report jointly prepared by B.J.Stocks, J.G.Goldammer, M.Fosberg, S.Conard, and E. Valendik. Main references are:

References (updated)

FIRESCAN Science Team 1994. Fire in boreal ecosystems of Eurasia: first results of the Bor Forest Island Fire Experiment, Fire Research Campaign Asia-North (FIRESCAN). World Resource Review 6, 499-523.

FIRESCAN Science Team. 1996. Fire in ecosystems of boreal Eurasia: The Bor Forest Island Fire Experiment, Fire Research Campaign Asia-North (FIRESCAN). In: Biomass burning and global change. Vol.II (J.S.Levine, ed.), 848-873. The MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

Fosberg, M.A. 1992. IBFRA Stand Replacement Fire Working Group. Int. Forest Fire News (ECE/FAO) No. 7, 6-8.

Goldammer, J.G., and Furyaev, V.V. (eds.) 1996. Fire in Ecosystems of Boreal Eurasia. Kluwer Academic Publ., Dordrecht, 528 pp.

Goldammer. J.G. 1996. The boreal forest, fire and the global climate system. Achievements and needs in joint East-West boreal fire research and policy development. Fizika Goreniye i Vzryva <Physics of combustion and explosions> 32 (5), 83-98 <in English>.

IUFRO (ed.) 1995. IUFRO XX World Congress, Tampere, Finland, 6-12 August 1995. Abstract Vol., S1.09.00 Forest Fire Research Sessions, pp. 86-94.

Pyne, S.J. 1992. The Russian fire establishment: impressions from a study tour. Int. Forest Fire News (ECE/FAO) No. 6 (January 1992), pp. 3-4.

Steffen, W.L., and A.Z. Shvidenko (eds.) 1996. The IGBP Northern Eurasia Study: Prospectus for Integrated Global Change Research. Contributors: H.Bugmann, F.S.Chapin III, J.G.Goldammer, S.Hahn, R.Harding, P.Högberg, G.Inoue, P.G.Jarvis, P.Kabat, A.Krenke, P.Kuhry, H.Lee, J.S.Levine, S.Linder, S.Nilsson, T.Ohata, A.Pszenny, W.S.Reeburgh, R.Rosenberg, E.-D. Schulze, and K.A.Smith. The International Geosphere-Biosphere Program: A Study of Global Change. International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), IGBP Stockholm <English 95 p., Russian 108>.


Contact address of first author:

Brian J.Stocks
Senior Research Scientist

Forest Fire and Global Change
Canadian Forest Service
Natural Resources Canada
1219 Queen Street East
Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario P6A 5M7

Fax: ++1-705-759-5700
Tel: ++1-705-759-5740-2181



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