Future of fire in the Pacific Islands: Towards a national synthesis for wildland fire under a changing climate

Firefighters tend a grassy fire break line in front of burning brush, with a blackened, smoky landscape behind
Wildfire is a growing threat to Pacific Island ecosystems and communities, with increasing temperatures, more frequent droughts, and spreading invasive fire-prone grasses. (Credit: DBenitiez, NPS)

Wildfire is a significant yet underappreciated issue on Pacific Islands that threatens ecosystems from ridge-tops to reefs, including native species, waters, human communities, and natural and cultural resources. In the Hawaiian archipelago, the percentage of land burned annually is equal or greater than that burned across the western United States, with most fires occurring in drier nonnative grasslands and shrublands, which make up 25% of Hawaiʻi’s total land area. As island communities face increased wildfire risk due to climate change and other factors, such as continued plant invasions, collaborative bio-cultural stewardship approaches to adaptation will be critical to wildfire management. Fire causes and effects are interrelated components of a social-ecological-hydrological system with the potential for profound ecological transformation. An effective, forward-looking fire science synthesis is urgently required to reflect potential future changes in fire regimes and to better understand and prepare for impacts of wildfire on ecosystems and human communities under a changing climate.

To meet this need, we propose to conduct a science synthesis and research assessment of the changing and anticipated fire dynamics in the Hawaiian Islands, then relate these changes to natural resource management options and opportunities and extend this knowledge to users and partners. Through this project, we will engage a post-doctoral fellow to: 1) synthesize how fire and subsequent impacts on natural resources have changed over time by exploring Hawaiian language archival materials for historical records on fire history and perceptions; 2) provide a scientific foundation for adaptive fire decision-making in the context of climate change through contributions to a Decision Support Tool for improving ridge-to-reef stewardship; and 3) extend information to fire-prone geographies in Hawaiʻi using a multiple knowledge-systems approach to support manager planning for alternative futures, intervention actions, and potential consequences of decisions. Products will include one or more peer reviewed papers on the regional and broader national context of wildfire, as well as public facing documents and communication activities (e.g., webinars) to engage managers and resource stewards with the results of this work.





Christian Giardina
Research Ecologist, Inst. of Pacific Islands Forestry, US Forest Service


Alyssa Anderson
Fire Post-doctoral Fellow, UH Mānoa


Susan Cordell
USDA Forest Service
Abby Frazier
Clark University
Creighton Litton
UH Mānoa
Clay Trauernicht
UH Mānoa/Pacific Fire Exchange