Science Center Objects

WERC scientists are defining the past, present, and future of wildfires for wildlife and human communities. Explore this webpage to learn about specific, ongoing projects across California and parts of Nevada.

Wildfires may seem like untamable forces of nature, but there are very real environmental and human factors driving them. Scientists with the U.S. Geological Survey, Western Ecological Research Center (WERC) are providing resource managers with regional- and national-scale findings on the effects of historical fire and forest management, influences on current fire patterns, and the future of fire across California.

WERC is a USGS Ecosystems Mission Area center serving primarily California and Nevada. Eight WERC Principal Investigators operate out of field stations located in the two states’ diverse ecosystems. Their unique positions allow them to study wildfire history and behavior from the chaparral landscapes of southern California, to the Mojave Desert, and the forests of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. WERC scientists’ studies of this complex network of ecosystems lends their research both small- and large-scale applications.

USGS natural hazards and ecosystems science can assist managers and planners in finding solutions to reduce the risk of home and habitat loss — and help California truly learn to live with fire. Examples include investigations into the characteristics of wildfires from the Sierra Nevada to the Mojave; effects of wildfire on Greater Sage-grouse populations and habitat; recovery and post-fire restoration of critical habitat for listed species; changes in desert landscapes from increasingly frequent fires; effects of habitat disturbance, ash, and debris from wildfires on amphibians and reptiles; studies on fire trends and efficacy of fire management strategies to enhance forest resilience; and environmental and anthropogenic factors influencing wildfire size, severity, and frequency in southern California.

WERC Fire science partners

The USGS collaborates with the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, Department of Defense, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Nevada Department of Wildlife, and California Department of Fish and Wildlife on fire science.

Download the current handout on WERC's fire science and explore specific projects under the "Related Science" tab.

Joshua trees burning in the Bulldog Fire in Mojave Desert tortoise habitat of southwestern Utah

Joshua trees burning in the Bulldog Fire in Mojave Desert tortoise habitat of southwestern Utah. These fires result in population losses of tortoises and modify the habitat in ways that takes decades to centuries to recover. (Credit: Todd C. Esque/USGS. Public domain.)

Photo of a prescribed burn in progress

Prescribed fire in the Sierra Nevada. Resource managers with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and other management agencies use controlled fires to clear dead vegetation and low-lying brush from a forest, lowering the risk that future wildfires will have enough fuel to grow to dangerous sizes. (Credit: Eric Knapp/USFS. Public domain.)