Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Wildland Fire Science School - Part 3: Wildland Fire in a Changing Climate

This set of lessons addresses changes in wildland fire patterns, the relationship of wildland fire to changing climate, and possible management strategies with a focus on Indigenous Fire Stewardship.

Part 3: Fire Management and Climate Change

Lesson: Burning to Learn

Grades: 6-12

Topics: The Science of Fire Management: Climate Change, Fire-adapted Ecosystems, Indigenous Fire Stewardship

NGSS Alignment:

  • ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

    • Changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate. (HS-ESS2-6),(HS-ESS2-4) 

  • ESS3.A: Natural Resources

    • All forms of energy production and other resource extraction have associated economic, social, environmental, and geopolitical costs and risks as well as benefits. New technologies and social regulations can change the balance of these factors. (HS-ESS3-2)

  • ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems

    • The sustainability of human societies and the biodiversity that supports them requires responsible management of natural resources. (HS-ESS3-3) 

    • Scientists and engineers can make major contributions by developing technologies that produce less pollution and waste and that preclude ecosystem degradation. (HS-ESS3-4)

  • ESS3.D: Global Climate Change

    • Though the magnitudes of human impacts are greater than they have ever been, so too are human abilities to model, predict, and manage current and future impacts. (HS-ESS3-5)

  • ETS1.B: Developing Possible Solutions

    • When evaluating solutions, it is important to take into account a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics, and to consider social, cultural, and environmental impacts. (secondary to HS-ESS3-2),(secondary HS-ESS3-4) 

  • LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience 

    • A complex set of interactions within an ecosystem can keep its numbers and types of organisms relatively constant over long periods of time under stable conditions. If a modest biological or physical disturbance to an ecosystem occurs, it may return to its more or less original status (i.e., the ecosystem is resilient), as opposed to becoming a very different ecosystem. Extreme fluctuations in conditions or the size of any population, however, can challenge the functioning of ecosystems in terms of resources and habitat availability. (HS-LS2-2),(HS-LS2-6)  

    • Moreover, anthropogenic changes (induced by human activity) in the environment—including habitat destruction, pollution, introduction of invasive species, overexploitation, and climate change—can disrupt an ecosystem and threaten the survival of some species. (HS-LS2-7) 

  • Science and Engineering Practices:  

    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems 

    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data 

    • Crosscutting Concepts: 

    • Cause and Effect 

    • Systems and System Models 

    • Energy and Matter 

    • Stability and Change 

    • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking 

    • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions 

    • Engaging in argument from evidence 

    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

  • Crosscutting Concepts:

    • Cause and Effect 

    • Systems and System Models 

    • Energy and Matter 

    • Stability and Change


This set of lessons addresses changes in wildland fire patterns, the relationship of wildland fire to changing climate, and possible management strategies with a focus on Indigenous Fire Stewardship.  

  • Lesson 1: Is wildfire frequency, size, or severity changing over time? 

  • Lesson 2: Is there a relationship between wildland fires and changing climate? 

  • Lesson 3: Is there anything that people can do about wildfires? 


  • Climate change 

  • Indigenous fire stewardship

Teacher Background:

Teachers will want to be well informed on several subjects for this project, such as climate change, climate change impact on wildland fire, and Indigenous Fire Stewardship.  

The impact that climate change is having on wildland fires is complex. Educators may wish to review research on climate change and wildland fire frequency and severity. This link has recent research articles on climate change; this page explains some of the current research on the impact climate change has on wildland fires. This link discusses climate change, wildland fires, and fire-adapted ecosystems. 

This webinar by U.S. Forest Service fire scientist Frank Lake is an excellent introduction for teachers on indigenous fire stewardship and fire-adapted ecosystems.


  • Students will interact with USGS data

  • Students will investigate and explain reasons for changes in wildfires

  • Students will investigate and explain methods of forest/fire management

Specific Lesson Topics:

  • Some ecosystems are well adapted to fire 

  • Indigenous Fire Stewardship 

  • Data Analysis: Are fires becoming more frequent, severe, widespread? 

  • If so, what are some possible causes?  

  • Climate Change 

  • Fire suppression  

  • Claim-Evidence-Reasoning activity; analyzing the data and convincing classmates that your hypothesis is supported by data OR claim that climate change is having an impact on wildfires and in what ways

Lesson 1: Is wildfire frequency, size, or severity changing over time?


Present the Phenomenon: Wildfires seem to be threatening increasing numbers of human and natural ecosystems. Below are several possible ways to present this phenomenon, but try whatever engages your students. 

  1. Contact a fire scientist and request a partnership, a classroom visit, or a virtual visit. 

  2. If you live near the site of a wildland fire, start your wildland fire unit with a field trip and have students record their observations and questions. 

  3. Find an online video of a local wildland fire or impact of a fire; one example is below

    • 2014 Silverado Fire – this video shows post-fire debris flow; use it to generate student questions about what is happening and why 

  4. Try the Inciweb interactive map activity below. 

The purpose of the interactive map option is to encourage students to start asking questions about changing patterns and management of wildland fires, so there are several approaches you can take with the Inciweb map. Start by having students navigate to Inciweb – a collaborative, interagency, real-time map of fires across the United States. 

  1. Ask students to find the closest and the largest fires currently active, or any other category you can think of. Ask them try to figure out which agencies are involved in this collaborative venture, particularly in your region. Give them time to investigate the interactive map and report out on what they learned. 

  2. Alternatively, after navigating to the map, allow students time to explore freely, discovering information and data linked to the map. Ask them try to figure out which agencies are involved in this collaborative venture, particularly in your region. Have them report out on what they learned.


Dig deeper into the data to discover any patterns of wildfire changes in recent years. 

Have students explore wildland fire data using the Wildland Fire Stats spreadsheet. Sample graphs are provided for the teacher; if class time permits, students will gain more from creating these graphs themselves than from just looking at the examples. One best practice method that can be used with these data is the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning (C-E-R) activity explained below. Students can create graphs, use them to generate observations and questions, and draw conclusions. We would expect that by the end of this activity, whether C-E-R is used or not, the class should notice that although there has not been an increase in the number of fires per year, there has been an increase in acres burned or size of the fire.  

Other potential resources for fire data: 

  1. Data & maps re wildfire research and climate change: Science Explorer (

  2. GREAT MAP: Interactive, real-time map: National Fire Situational Awareness ( was formerly (Geospatial Multi-Agency Coordination (GeoMAC) -- allows users to measure fires, see where different types of actions are occurring; examine data on specific fires (eg ., Beachie Fire, updated until late October 2020).

  3. The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG): NWCG| NWCG is an operational group designed to coordinate programs of the participating wildfire management agencies.; note USGS is not part of this, although other DOI agencies are (BLM, FWS, BIA, NPS). 

  4. Climate, Wildfire, Erosion Data: Climate, Wildfire, and Erosion Data, Western US - ScienceBase-Catalog (This is pretty confusing, would be good to talk to someone involved).

  5. Another example: Has the number of human-caused fires in my region increased over time?

  6. Has the number of lightning-caused fires increased over time? Like human-caused, can examine total or by region.

  7. Current news & numbers of fires/acres year-to-date

  8. Decide on specific questions, based on what you can answer with the data. 

  9. Graph the data. 


Lesson 2: Is there a relationship between wildland fires and changing climate?


What’s causing the increase in burned acres? Students will research, either independently or in small groups, the impact of changing climate on wildfires. Students will have already learned about weather and climate in earlier grades; this will build on their understanding. Using your favored method of note taking, have students use any of the following sites to research impacts of climate change on fire. 

  1. Publication that lists 12 years of publications on wildland fire science: Characterizing 12 Years of Wildland Fire Science at the U.S. Geological Survey.

  1. There are 8 regional Climate Adaptation Science Centers (CASCs), so students can start with the national CASC or find their regional CASC: Climate Adaptation Science Centers (

  1. Research site on “Understanding Impacts on Southeastern Grasslands from Climate Change, Urban Expansion, and Invasive Species.

  1. Fire also impacts climate.

  1. Project database and possible data: Projects - Climate Adaptation Science Centers (, searchable by region and topic. Topics include: Landscapes; Drought, Fire, Extreme Weather; Wildlife & Plants; Water, Coasts, Ice; Native Communities; and Science Tools for Managers. 

  1. FAQs about climate change impact on wildfires: Will global warming produce more frequent and more intense wildfires? (

  1. FAQs about landslides, debris flows: What should I know about wildfires and debris flows? ( . 


Lesson 3: Is there anything that people can do about wildfires? 


Particularly for students who live in regions that are experiencing fire, this is a good opportunity to introduce them to fire management in Native American cultures. If the teacher or any students have connections to a local tribe or wildfire managers, students could interview local contacts about the fire ecology and ecosystems of the area to increase engagement and uncover crucial ecological and land management information.  

Do the Notice-Wonder activity below to engage students with wondering about prescribed burns. The image shows prescribed burn ignition by Yurok and Karok fire management experts. This activity serves as a starting point for investigating Indigenous Fire Stewardship. 

Next, have students do a deeper dive into Indigenous Fire Stewardship in one of several ways. 

  • Locate an online video about fire, stewardship, and Native American culture. 

  • Have students do a jigsaw reading of one of the articles linked in the chart (teacher can select based on interest, reading level, or region) 

  • Have students independently or in small groups read their choice of the articles and devise a method for teaching their classmates what they have learned 

  • Find videos about the partnerships between Tribal/Indigenous Fire Scientists and fire management agencies; have students watch and take notes on these. Possible search terms include “Indigenous fire stewardship”, “Indigenous fire management”, “traditional ecological knowledge”, “Native American fire management” 

  • As they research, have them fill out a guided reading activity (sample provided below) 

  • Have students share their findings in whatever format you choose 

Date & Authors 

Article Name 


2002 Keeley 

Native American impacts of fire regimes on the California coastal regions 

USGS; Overview of history of Indigenous fire stewardship 

2020 Kelly et al. 

Fire and biodiversity in the Anthropocene 


2021 Lake 

Indigenous Fire Stewardship: Federal/Tribal Partnerships for Wildland Fire Research and Management

USFS; Recommended if teacher chooses one for entire class 

USGS Article 

Hot Off the Press! Great Balls of Fire! 

Short article on using drones to drop balls that ignite prescribed burns 


Wildfire at the Crossroads 

and Spanish language version 

USGS; Short video on collaboration at the Mexico-US border to manage wildland fire in habitats that are fire-adapted 



The activities and group discussions may be used as formative assessments or student-created products could be shared with fire science experts or community stakeholders.