FARMINGTON — A University of Maine at Farmington professor of biology has been awarded a $67,000 federal research grant to study the impact high severity fires are having on forest ecosystems in the western United States.

Drew Barton was awarded the 18-month research grant by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Joint Fire Service Program, according to a UMF press release.

“The grant will investigate whether these large fires are permanently transforming diverse, mixed pine and oak forests into more simple oak woodlands, and whether a change in fire management can help them return to a more resilient and sustainable ecosystem,” the press release said.

Barton will be working with grant collaborators Helen Poulos, of Wesleyan University, and Graeme Berlin, of Yale University, to investigate if the change from low-severity ground fires to high-severity ground fires is causing lasting effects on the ecological makeup of forests in the southwestern United States.

Recent research has shown that most forests in the Southwest are best adapted to low-severity fires that stay close to the groundfloor of the forest, resulting in short-term effects on the forest ecosystem such as opening up vegetation, the news release said. However, over the last century, fire suppression has led to the buildup of low-lying vegetation. Paired with higher temperatures and a decrease in rainfall, this buildup of forest fuel is resulting in high-severity crown fires.

The grant includes funding for two UMF students to join Barton for six weeks of field work in May and June 2016. The research will be conducted in the Coronado National Forest and Chiricahua National Monument in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona.

At the end of the grant’s tenure, the research team will present their findings to forestry specialists in order to help policymakers and land managers make more scientifically based decisions when it comes to managing the problem of forest fires better.

Barton has focused on forest ecology, conservation and the evniornmental sciences at UMF. Conducting the research on the present grant will be the second time Barton has worked in the Chiricahua Mountains. He has also conducted fire ecology research within Maine on Great Wass Island and the Phippsburg peninsula.

Lauren Abbate — 861-9252

[email protected]

Twitter: @Lauren_M_Abbate

 

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