Wildfires burn millions of acres annually, taking lives and property, and consuming billions of dollars in suppression costs.
Interagency Burned Area Emergency Response (BAER) teams conduct post-fire watershed assessments to identify and prioritize watershed treatments to stabilize threats and protect downstream assets.
Through an outstanding technology transfer effort by scientists from the USDA Agricultural Research Service, Environmental Protection Agency, National Interagency Fire Center (NIFC), Bureau of Land Management, National Weather Service (NWS), and University of Arizona, the Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment (AGWA) tool has been innovatively transferred to NIFC member agencies (i.e., Fish & Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service, Forest Service and National Weather Service), to speed the completion of post-fire watershed assessments that identify and focus treatments and money where they are most needed to reduce threats.
A pioneering aspect of the technology transfer process involved embedding AGWA team members with BAER teams on actual post-wildfire deployments to increase an understanding of BAER workflow, information requirements, decision processes, and reporting requirements. Between fire seasons, the AGWA team attended BAER pre-season workshops and taught a two-day AGWA training course with computer tutorials derived from prior wildfires.
Feedback during the training sessions prioritized improvements that would further enhance the AGWA for BAER team use, and these were then tackled by staff and graduate student research projects supported by funding built into a four-year Interagency Agreement (IA).
As the IA progressed, the embedding of AGWA experts decreased as the BAER team members became more proficient. AGWA expertise within the BAER teams has progressed to the point where BAER team experts are now training new members to run and apply AGWA. AGWA has enabled BAER teams to rapidly model the risk of post-fire runoff, erosion, and sediment transport to all downstream values (water supply intakes, road crossings, property, recreation sites, etc.). In one example from 2013 (the 130,000-acre Elk Wildfire Complex in Idaho), the BAER team used AGWA to identify for mulch stabilization treatment the most important 2,000 acres of the initial 16,000 acres identified for treatment. This example alone resulted in documented savings of between $7M and $8M.
To date, AGWA has been used in over 50 BAER assignments for more than 3.3-million burned acres. As an added technology transfer bonus, BAER leaders requested the assistance of the NWS with post-fire flash flood warning. As a result, the GWA/KINEROS2 model has been evaluated in 7 NWS Weather Forecast Offices for real-time flash flood forecasting in 43 watersheds. All of the agencies involved in this effort embraced the technology transfer of AGWA through in-kind support, extensive interagency communication, and a passion to improve the nation’s response to increasing numbers of wildfires.
Contact: Dr. David Goodrich, (520) 603-2194, [email protected]
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