Date of Graduation

Spring 5-18-2024

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences

First Advisor

Simon Scarpetta, Ph.D


Wildfires are increasing in frequency, duration, and severity across Western North America. 20,438,720 acres (20.1%) of California has burned at least once since 2010. Projections suggest a statewide increase in burned area between 36% and 74% by 2085, with some forested areas in Northern California exceeding 100% in all modeled scenarios. Fire regimes have deviated far from their historical norm, significantly increasing the risk of type conversion from forest to other ecosystems. Californians rely on the myriad of ecosystem services produced by these forests to meet their basic needs. Access to these fundamental services will be severely reduced if appropriate action is not taken to ensure the regeneration of these ecosystems. This paper explores the impact of wildfire on ecosystem services and the programs and processes executed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) in response. A geospatial analysis of the North Complex fire (2020) tracks regeneration over three years and quantifies the loss of sediment retention services due to severe wildfire. The USFS invested significant resources in developing decision support tools, devising long-term reforestation strategies, and conducting assessments of post-fire conditions. However, findings reveal the stark loss of land cover to non-forest vegetation in the absence of reforestation treatments applied by the USFS. Over the last decade, only 6% of the post-wildfire reforestation activities identified by the USFS were implemented. Three years post-fire, sediment delivery to the stream networks within the boundaries of the fire perimeter increased by 15%. The USFS has considerable grounds to make up to achieve the REPLANT Act’s mandated reforestation goals. Established programs and processes are sufficiently thorough, but this research uncovered lagging execution of reforestation activities in affected areas. Consolidating existing decision support tools, commitments to long-term monitoring, and adopting new geospatial technologies are paramount to the agency’s ability to scale its reforestation program.