NWFSC Monster Seminar Jam: Emily Fairfax, Ph.D.
This seminar is part of the Northwest Fisheries Science Center's Monster Seminar Jam series.
Emily Fairfax, Ph.D. (California Sate University, Channel Islands) is presenting a talk, "Smokey the Beaver: Can beavers prevent wildfires?".
Beaver dams are gaining popularity as a low‐tech, low‐cost strategy to build climate resiliency at the landscape scale. They slow and store water that can be accessed by riparian vegetation during dry periods, effectively protecting riparian ecosystems from droughts. Whether or not this protection extends to wildfire has been discussed anecdotally but has not been examined in a scientific context. We used remotely sensed Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data to compare riparian vegetation greenness in areas with and without beaver damming during wildfire. We include data from five large wildfires of varying burn severity and dominant landcover settings in the western United States in our analysis. We found that beaver‐dammed riparian corridors are relatively unaffected by wildfire when compared to similar riparian corridors without beaver damming. On average, the decrease in NDVI during fire in areas without beaver is 3.05 times as large as it is in areas with beaver. Perhaps instead of relying solely on human engineering and management to create and maintain fire‐resistant landscape patches, we could benefit from beaver’s ecosystem engineering to achieve the same goals at a lower cost.
Dr. Emily Fairfax is an Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Resource Management at California State University Channel Islands. Dr. Fairfax double majored in Chemistry and Physics as an undergraduate at Carleton College, then went on to earn a PhD in Geological Sciences from the University of Colorado Boulder. She uses a combination of remote sensing and field work to research how beaver activity can create drought and fire-resistant patches in the landscape under a changing climate. Her colleagues and students can vouch that when Dr. Fairfax says she can talk about beavers all day, she’s not kidding.
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