Linked Disturbance Interactions in South-central Alaska: Implications for Ecosystems and People

Western Kenai Peninsula, Alaska
Dec 2011 to Jun 2013

My Alaska CASC project focused on understanding how a massive spruce bark beetle outbreak on the Kenai Peninsula has affected subsequent wildfire occurrence (Fig. 1). My research suggests that bark beetle outbreaks, particularly in stands where the outbreak lasted for more than one year, were associated with modest increases in wildfire occurrence. Though, many other factors, including vegetation type and climate also played critical roles. This research suggests that in contrast with the Rocky Mountain West, bark beetles can lead to increased wildfire probability. It also highlights the contingent nature of different fire drivers and strong connections between climate and wildfire. My second chapter focused on understanding how bark beetle outbreaks and wildfires have affected property values in the wildland-urban interface of the Kenai Peninsula, using an economic valuation technique known as hedonic property modelling. This approach allows researchers to evaluate the influence of environmental conditions on variation in property values, which serves as an indicator of human response. My study showed both large wildfires and bark beetle outbreaks were associated with increases in property values. Further, this effect strengthened with time since disturbance. I speculate this is due to disturbances opening up aesthetically pleasing views of ocean and mountains (Fig. 2).

I currently am a Ph.D. student at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, working with Dr. Monica Turner. I study how and why changing climate and fire regimes may push subalpine conifer forests of Yellowstone over tipping points and what the consequences of fundamental changes in forest state may be for critical ecosystem processes.