Cross-jurisdictional boundary forest and fire management research
Over the past century, Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest have managed their respective portions of the southern Kaibab Plateau with differing mandates, approaches, and objectives. As a result, the boundary between the National Park and the National Forest is now visible from space. We are working with Northern Arizona University researchers to uncover the causal linkages between the current observed conditions along the boundary and the management histories that are thought to have created them.
The north Kaibab Plateau is a sky-island forest bordering the Grand Canyon’s North Rim in one of the most remote, rugged areas in the US. The Plateau rises seven thousand vertical feet above the Colorado River through Grand Canyon, topping out at over nine thousand feet in altitude. The undulating ridges along the Kaibab feature a complex patchwork of forest-types, including ponderosa pine, mixed conifer, aspen, subalpine spruce-fir and open grassland parks. It also supports one of the most celebrated game herds in the country (the Kaibab deer). The north Kaibab Plateau is a sublime landscape recognized for its scenic grandeur, striking biological diversity in a largely arid region, and compelling human history and prehistory. The majority of the Plateau’s forests are managed by Kaibab National Forest, while the southernmost portion near the North Rim is included in Grand Canyon National Park.
Over the past century, Grand Canyon National Park and the Kaibab National Forest have managed their respective portions of the southern Kaibab Plateau with differing mandates, approaches, and objectives. As a result, the boundary between the National Park and the National Forest is now visible from space. Chris Holcomb, a graduate student at Northern Arizona University is exploring the effects of different land-management practices on current fuel loads along the main east-west boundary between Kaibab National Forest and Grand Canyon National Park on the Kaibab Plateau.
The first goal is to identify, describe and explore a curious ecotone which appears to follow the jurisdictional boundary through the forest of the north Kaibab Plateau. By utilizing GIS-derived data layers and remotely sensed imagery, Holcomb will investigate this unusual phenomenon of a real ecological boundary that has established along the jurisdictional line which divides the National Forest and the National Park. This boundary is visible from satellite imagery as an obvious line that runs through the forest for many miles. The boundary has also shown up in the North Kaibab Landscape Assessment, where rigorous modeling exercises have revealed detailed patterns in forest composition, forest structure, fuel loads, fire hazard and fire risk. That is, through these modeling exercises, the boundary effects are visible as obvious changes in the modeled condition on each side of the boundary. This anthropogenic ecotone is thought to be an artifact of the very different management styles that have predominated on different sides of the line beginning with the establishment of the National Park in 1919; the boundary likely results from a combination of logging, forest fire and domestic grazing, but little is known about the relative effects of these and other causes. At this point, the artificial ecotone is pronounced but not well understood, and it offers an unprecedented opportunity for teasing apart the effect of management on forest ecosystems.
There are two major phases to this research. The first was the collection of plot-based data at nearly 90 random locations along the boundary, with half of the plots on National Forest land, and the other half on National Park land. These field measurements will be entered into a computer program (called NEXUS) which will allow us to model the potential fire severity of those areas. The second phase will be a comparative management history that will seek to develop causal linkages between past management and current fuel conditions. Specifically, he will focus on policies regarding timber harvest, wildland fire, domestic grazing, and the development of road networks. Through this exercise, he will be seeking to develop causal linkages between the current observed conditions along the boundary and the management histories that are thought to have created these conditions.