Eyes on Earth Episode 51 – LANDFIRE 2019 Limited

Download
Right-click and save to download

Detailed Description

The fire science community is always on the lookout for the freshest satellite-derived fire disturbance maps. Aiming to meet those needs, the multi-agency partnership known as LANDFIRE has just released an update that adds three new years of disturbances across the U.S. to its 20-plus layers of GIS data. LANDFIRE 2019 Limited is a step toward annual updates for the program, which is relied upon nationwide to guide land management and fire planning. On this episode of Eyes on Earth, two LANDFIRE leaders talk about why they’re working to speed up new releases.
 

Details

Episode Number: 51

Date Taken:

Length: 00:16:24

Location Taken: Sioux Falls, SD, US

Credits

Guests:

Henry Bastian, LANDFIRE Business Lead, Department of Interior

Frank Fay, LANDFIRE Business Lead, USDA Forest Service

Host: John Hult (Contractor for USGS EROS Center)
 

Transcript

HENRY BASTIAN:
We are now in calendar year 2021. That's five years. Five years that have occurred since LANDFIRE has incorporated changes or disturbances in the product. If LANDFIRE can be better at helping address that latency and frequency it will position users to be able to see those analyses in a much quicker and faster fashion.
JOHN HULT:
Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of Eyes on Earth. We're a podcast that focuses on our ever-changing planet. And on the people here at EROS and across that globe who use remote sensing to monitor and study the health of Earth. I'm your host John Hult.
Landscape Fire and Resource Management Tools also known as LANDFIRE offers a dizzying array of data points on the nation's satellite derived GIS mapping products. LANDFIRE is a critical tool for wildfire planning, mitigation, and recovery. It's also useful in a host of applications and studies involving ecosystems, wetlands, carbon storage, habitats, environmental damage and restoration and even human health. Users are always on the lookout for the newest data, and LANDFIRE production teams are working to meet those needs. LANDFIRE has just released an update called LANDFIRE 2019 Limited, just one year after completing the most significant full scale remap in the program's history. The new release adds three years of disturbance data to several of LANDFIRE'S mapping layers. The Limited update will be especially helpful for fire science and fire response communities heading into the 2021 wildfire season. With us today to talk about the what's, why's and how's of LANDFIRE 2019 Limited are two of the multi-agency partnerships business leads Henry Bastian of the Department of the Interior and Frank Fay of the US Forest Service, who is marking his second appearance on our show. Henry and Frank, welcome to Eyes on Earth.
FRANK FAY:
Thanks, John
BASTIAN:
Thank you
HULT:
Let's start with Henry. For the folks who might not know already, give us the elevator pitch for LANDFIRE. What is it? Where did it come from? And why is it important?
BASTIAN:
It started back with the Government Accountability Office. The Federal government had a lack of data. Our Forest Service and Department of Interior agencies, we needed landscape data. And LANDFIRE was the only proposed effort at the time that was going to provide comprehensive data, to give you vegetation, fuels data across the Nation. Its importance really is to help provide not only fire, because fire is the large contributor that pays for it, but, it supports natural resources, carbon climate, a number of other things. It's super helpful to have that data (for) people on the ground that are making decisions relative to fires, habitat management, things of those nature.

HULT:
We're talking about Landsat derived 30-meter per pixel resolution data, for the entire United States, Hawaii, Alaska. I know I'm missing a few there. Is that right?
BASTIAN:
That is correct. And in recent years we've added the territories or insular areas.
HULT:
So, if you need to know what type of tree is growing on a patch of ground in Hawaii or Guam, you can turn to LANDFIRE and figure that out?
BASTIAN:
Yeah. That is what's to cool about it. LANDFIRE is using the ecological system and the National Vegetation Classification Standard, so, we're able to go down to a finer, what I'll call resolution or detail, because we're actually mapping down to some of those species types. And that then really positions managers with the knowledge to say, "oh, based on this particular vegetation, how does it burn? How does it react to fire? How do other species, wildlife interact with it? What's happening to that species with drought, climate change? It gives you those details rather than just simply saying, "oh we've got some good landcover data with grass, shrub lands or forests." You've got those details to work with.
HULT:
So, a lot of information. A lot of good information. And the information is even better this year then it was maybe two years ago because of LANDFIRE Remap. Henry, Frank, I'm going to ask both of you for your thoughts about LANDFIRE Remap. What changed last year? And tell me how the updated base map and associated products have been received. Maybe Henry you can start out.
BASTIAN:
So the LANDFIRE 2016 effort, also known as Remap, was a very important mapping effort. We mapped everything nationally back to circa 2001 conditions. And of course, we've been doing some updates. 2008 - 10 - 12 - 14 and areas of change. But vegetation continues to grow. We had not captured some of that incremental growth that was occurring across the landscape. And so, it was really important to kind of just reset the foundation. The 2016 efforts really helped us focus on all those current conditions. As of 2016 a large number of new field plots had been collected. Technology had improved. With our methodologies and algorithms, we were able to take advantage of that and make some pretty significant improvements. People are commenting that they are very impressed. People are liking the way the products are performing and some of our fire behavior modeling. Overall we are hearing really good comments and feedback from users.
FAY:
I agree, John. The users that I have talked to have been very impressed with the LANDFIRE Remap. One of the things that I think is most exciting about the Remap is that we were able to incorporate quite a bit of lidar data. That allowed us to present continuous values for vegetation height, vegetation cover and canopy cover. That's a significant upgrade over the bins we had in the previous base map.
HULT:
And again, you're talking about lidar. For the folks that might not be familiar with that, lidar is a different sort of remotely sensed data. You essentially shoot a laser at an object and measure the amount of time it takes for that to come back, and you can basically figure out how tall something is.
FAY:
That's correct. Some of the lidar that we used was airborne, from an airplane. And some of it, I think, came from satellites. But we didn't have the lidar image everywhere. So, we used what we had as training data and then extrapolated to all lands.
HULT:
And that's important to figure out how tall the canopy is because that impacts fire behavior, as I understand it. Is that right?
FAY:
Exactly. Yes.
HULT:
Frank, let's stick with you here for a second. Let's talk about LANDFIRE 2019 Limited. What's new here? What's included? What isn't? And who will this update be the most useful for?
FAY:
LANDFIRE 2019 Limited or LF2019L as we sometimes call it, is an update to the Remap that we just completed. The 2019 part of the name tells us that we are adding disturbances and vegetation changes from 2017, 2018 & 2019. The "L" or the limited part tells us that it isn't a full update. And 2019L is limited in several important ways, and it's important for the user to understand so that they can use it properly. One of the more significant limitations is that we only are addressing the 48 states. No Alaska, no Hawaii. You folks are going to have to wait a little longer. Another one of the important limitations is that we only added disturbances or vegetation changes that were contributed to us by our partners or we were able to glean from the associated databases that we have at our disposal. The thing we didn't include is the remote sensing data. We normally use remote sensing to detect change. We didn't have the remote sensing change in 2019 Limited. For our user base. It is going to be most useful for folks in the fire community. Because, they want the most recent information to help determine how a fire might spread or to do wildfire risk assessments on the landscape. The other point I wanted to make is that LANDFIRE 2019L is a transitional product. Our objective is to get to where we can do a product every year. And have that data be pretty recent. Perhaps as little as a year old. This isn't that. But this is a transition toward that goal. And I'm pretty confident that we can get there in the next version or two.
HULT:
I'm glad that you brought that up. Let's stay on that train for a little bit, talking about getting out annual updates and eventually, getting out sort of full updates every year. Henry, I want to turn to you here. What's next for LANDFIRE? Is that really what we're looking at is annual updates? Are we looking at more robust updates? And when can users expect to see these kinds of updates coming from LANDFIRE?
BASTIAN:
That's the kind of question that I think Frank and I have been fielding from users for many years, actually. They've been so happy that they have LANDFIRE data. It has saved them lots of time. But, even with that, the latency and the frequency at which LANDFIRE has been producing product. People are still looking to understand what changed, and then meeting that change to then help them manage things. So for instance, last year, 2020-a banner fire year. A lot of disturbance. A lot of change. What users are having to do is, and let's put it within the picture of a firefighter or incident management team ... they know that those fires have occurred. So as new fires are occurring, they can use those previous years fires to their tactical advantage in understanding where do they need to apply firefighting resources to maybe reduce or hopefully suppress a fire. Knowing that another area had burned last year or the year before, they may be able to say, 'well, we're not going to spend as much time over there because we know based on previous experience.' When a fire encounters those previous burns or those areas that have been treated, the fire's behavior is going to drop or maybe not even spread. So, they're able to more quickly manage it. We're looking to move in that more annual approach. We've been doing biannual updates. By the time users actually get it, it's about three years. And so, by providing more robust updates where, as Frank eluded to, we're maybe only a year out. Users aren't going to have to do as much on their end to say what's changed to see what's inland fire vs. what is not. And how can we do some updates locally to the data so that when we do analyses when we're using it for say, a fire and then very quickly be able to start the modeling, start the analysis. I think you asked the question also, "what are we expecting in the coming years?" We are going to be doing combinations of these limited vs. full. And be able to provide that in say, 2022 - 2023. So, users will be to see products to maybe be only one year out of sync with what they have experienced with recent disturbances.
HULT:
It seems as though users are always going to have to deal with some of the things that have happened since the map was made. You're never going to catch what happened last week in the newest product update. But it sounds like you are trying to minimize the amount of adjustment that the users are going to have to do to get to where they need to be. 
BASTIAN:
Yeah. That's exactly right, John.
HULT:
LANDFIRE Remap and LANDFIRE Limited, they both represent fresher data then users had in the past. What has the new data been used for so far with Remap? What are you hearing? And where do you see it being useful in the future? Frank, I want to turn to you here. Are we looking at for example an update to the Wildfire Risked Communities tool that we talked about a while ago?
FAY:
I think that's entirely possible. I have some colleagues who are already using the Remap for wildfire risk assessment at the regional scale. And the reports I hear back from them is that it is saving them a lot of time updating. They like the higher resolution in the vegetation data. The team I work with on the Wildfire Risk to Communities website is looking at incorporating Remap. But when they heard we would have a 2019 Limited version. They said, "well maybe we will just drag our feet for a month or two and we'll use that, because that will save us three years of updates." So it is being used quite a bit and well received, I think. I'm sure Henry has some more examples.
BASTIAN:
Yeah, maybe just to build on that. So Frank talked about risk assessments. That's indeed happening at the state level. And there's also another tool called the Inter Agency Fuel Treatment Decision Support System, also known as IFTDSS. Within that tool, users are applying the LANDFIRE 2016 data for burn plans, mechanical treatments. There also is a risk functionality within IFTDSS to look at exposure. The values on that area of interest and then of course ultimately what is that quantitative risk picture that they need to be evaluating and factoring in based on the burn probability of the location. The condition of the fuels. Again, all that exposure and those values. So there's a lot of use of the products at this point in time.
HULT:
For the Risk Assessment Tool, is there several areas? Whether you're looking at wildfires that would occur in a forest or with wildfire risk to communities, wildfires that would get into the wildland urban interface and actually threaten homes, this data is being incorporated into those risk assessments. And that reminds me ... LANDFIRE is used well outside just the fire science community. It's used for ecosystems and all sorts of studies. Insurance adjusters use LANDFIRE. Don't they?
BASTIAN:
Yes, that is correct. There is a large user community in the private sector, and insurance companies are definitely one. They are taking the data and using it to help inform rates relative to homeowners' insurance, looking at where the risks exist. You just take a look at what's happened recently in California-and they've had a few years unfortunately-we've had some pretty catastrophic effects relative to homes and families. They are also taking a look at the data. How do we make sure that from an insurance company we don't get overboard, if you will.
HULT:
It's always interesting, when we have these conversations about GIS, mapping products and science and applications. Just how valuable it is on a basic level, to understand what's out there. What's on the landscape and what's been changing.
BASTIAN:
That's the key part of all of this, John. I think you're really zeroing in on the key aspect: change. Change is such an important part of the world in which we live. In the human construct, we're dealing with change all the time. In the natural environment, change is happening all around us. Photosynthesis is occurring, vegetation is constantly growing. Being able to capture that change and provide it in a data set. That can then better help inform managers of what actions they need to take. Things they need to consider. Those kinds of things are really important. And these data are helping position managers with that type of information so they can make better decisions.
FAY:
We've talked a lot about wildland fire land applications for LANDFIRE. But like you have mentioned, there are a lot of other ways LANDFIRE is being used. It's being used to access wildlife habitat, watershed condition assessments, carbon balances, climate change, ecosystem changes. It's primarily a fire product, but it has a lot of other uses. And I think that those uses are going to be more valuable in the future.
HULT:
We've been talking with Henry Bastian of the Department of the Interior and Frank Fay of the US Forest Service about LANDFIRE 2019 Limited. Henry, Frank thank you so much for joining us.
FAY:
Thank you for your time, John.
BASTIAN:
Thank you so much, John.
HULT:
Be sure to drop in for the next episode of Eyes on Earth. You can find us on our website at usgs.gov/eros. Or find us on Apple podcasts or Google podcasts. Thanks for joining us. This podcast is a product of the US Geological Survey/Department of the Interior.