Restoring Resilience at Multiple Scales: Using LiDAR to guide burned
landscape recovery and restoration in Sierra Nevada Forests

Airborne LiDAR can provide high-resolution measurements of vertical and horizontal forest structure over very large areas. To make this immense amount of information usable for forest restoration, tools must be built to quantify current and desired structure and pattern across landscapes. We are building a suite of monitoring and assessment products to guide the restoration of burned landscapes and planning of large-scale restoration treatments. These tools and products will provide an important missing link in the application of LiDAR to restoration of burned areas.

The Forest RRAMS project is a collaboration between the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station, and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Project overview

    We are working on building the following monitoring and assessment products to guide restoration of burned landscapes and management of planned large-scale treatment implementation. These tools and products will provide an important “missing link” in LiDAR application to restoration of burned areas and the affected watersheds:
  1. Assess Vertical and Horizontal Structure, Scale and Pattern by Topographic Position and Forest Type in Post-Wildfire Conditions
  2. Quantify Reference Landscape Heterogeneity
  3. Develop a Landscape Resilience Assessment Tool
  4. Scaling Landscape Analyses into Stand-Level Prescriptions
  5. Monitor Treatment Effects

Project area

Our approach

Our primary focus is on developing methods for quantitative distillation and interpretation of LiDAR point clouds. Goals include detecting change in forest structure in response to disturbances such as fire or silvicutural treatments and framing these changes in the context of their ecological signiicance.


For example, we often classify vertical structure in terms of canopy stratification and horizontal structure in terms of patchiness and gappiness. Then we can observe how different types of structures responds to different severities of fire.


We also look at interactions between clump-gap patterns and fire severity in different forest types. Knowing how forests respond to fire in terms of structure and pattern is an important key to designing effective prescriptions for restoring forest resilience.


An important aspect of the project is modeling water balance, in particular, actual evapotranspiration (AET) and climatic water deficit (Deficit). We use AET and Deficit to match treatment areas to climatically similar reference areas. This enables us to set treatment targets - in terms of spatial pattern and vertical structure - that are appropriate for a given environment.

The ideas behind the project

Provided here is a sampling of some of the literature that forms the basis of the Forest RRAMS project. The fundamental ideas of Forest RRAMS are drawn from studies of tree spatial pattern in fire-frequent forests, ecological restoration programs that strive to respect these patterns, and remotely sensed means of describing and predicting these patterns. Bold names indicate involvement of members of the Forest RRAMS project team.

Kane, V.R., J.A. Lutz, C.A. Cansler, N.A. Povak, D.J. Churchill, D.F. Smith, J.T. Kane, and M.P. North. 2015. Water balance and topography predict fire and forest structure patterns. Forest Ecology and Management 338: 1-13.

Churchill, D.J., A.J. Larson, S.M.A. Jeronimo, M.C. Dahlgreen, and J.F. Franklin. 2013. The ICO approach to quantifying and restoring forest spatial pattern: Implemenation guide. Version 2.0. Stewardship Forestry, Vashon, WA, USA.

Fry, D.L., S.L. Stephens, B.M. Collins, M.P. North, E. Franco-Vizcaino, and S.J. Gill. 2014. Contrasting Spatial Patterns in Active-Fire and Fire-Suppressed Mediterranean Climate Old-Growth Mixed Conifer Forests. PLoS One 9(2): e88985.

Kane, V.R., M.P. North, J.A. Lutz, D.J. Churchill, S.L. Roberts, D.F. Smith, R.J. McGaughey, J.T. Kane, and M.L. Brooks. 2014. Assessing fire effects on forest spatial structure using a fusion of Landsat and airborne LiDAR data in Yosemite National Park Remote Sensing of Environment 151: 89-101.

Churchill, D.J., A.J. Larson; M.C. Dahlgreen, J.F. Franklin, P.F. Hessburg, and J.A. Lutz. 2013. Restoring forest resilience: From reference spatial patterns to silvicultural prescriptions and monitoring. Forest Ecology and Management 291: 442-457.

Franklin, J.F., K.N. Johnson, D.J. Churchill, K. Hagmann, D. Johnson, and J. Johnston. 2013. Restoration of dry forests in eastern Oregon: a field guide. The Nature Conservancy, Portland, OR. 202 pp.

Kane, V.R., J.A. Lutz, S.L. Roberts, D.F. Smith, R.J. McGaughey, N.A. Povak, and M.L. Brooks. 2013. Landscape-scale effects of fire severity on mixed-conifer and red fir forest structure in Yosemite National Park. Forest Ecology and Management 287: 17-31.

Lydersen, J.M., M.P. North, E.E. Knapp, and B.M. Collins. 2013. Quantifying spatial patterns of tree groups and gaps in mixed-conifer forests: Reference conditions and long-term changes following fire suppression and logging. Forest Ecology and Management 304: 370-382.

Larson, A.J. and D.J. Churchill. 2012. Tree spatial patterns in fire-frequent forests of western North America, including mechanisms of pattern formation and implications for designing fuel reduction and restoration treatments. Forest Ecology and Management 267: 74-92.

Lydersen, J.M. and M.P. North. 2012. Topographic Variation in Structure of Mixed-Conifer Forests Under an Active Fire regime. Ecosystems 15: 1134-1146.

North, M. P., Stine, K. O'Hara, W. Zielinski, and S. Stephens. 2009. An Ecosystem Management Strategy for Sierran Mixed-Conifer Forests. General Technical Report PSW-GTR-220. Albany, CA: US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station. 49pp.

Larson, A.J. and D.J. Churchill. 2008. Spatial patterns of overstory trees in late-successional conifer forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research 38: 2814-2825.

The Project Team

Malcolm North (PI-Davis) is an Affiliate Professor of Forest Ecology at U.C. Davis and a Research Ecologist with the USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station.

Jerry Franklin (PI-UW) is a Professor of Ecosystem Analysis at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Derek Churchill is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences and owner of Applied Forest Ecology, LLC.

Van Kane is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Robert McGaughey is a research forester with the USFS Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Carlos Ramirez leads the Remote Sensing Lab for the USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station.

Hugh Safford is the Regional Ecologist for the USFS Pacific Southwest Region and a Research Associate in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at U.C. Davis.

Jim Lutz is an Assistant Professor of Forest Ecology in the Wildland Resources Department at Utah State University.

Sean Jeronimo is a Masters of Science student at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Luke Dow is a Masters of Science student at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences.

Jonathan Kane is a staff researcher at the University of Washington School of Environmental and Forest Sciences