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100 Faces of Forestry
David Zahler

Jessica Halofsky

After the Burn: Fire Severity and Vegetation Recovery in Riparian Zones

Jessica Halofsky, a PhD candidate in the Forest Science department, learned to love being out in the forest at a young age. “When I was little, I did a lot of hiking in the woods in the Catskills Mountains region with my dad in upstate New York, which really contributed to my interest in the environment,” she explains. “From that point on, I took a lot of science courses in high school, a lot of biology in particular. I think the combination of those things led me to Environmental Studies as an undergrad.”

A Study Abroad program during her junior year at Bucknell University led her to study rainforest ecology and forestry with the School for Field Studies in Queensland, Australia, and after returning to the United States and receiving her B.S., she went to Penn State and earned a Master’s in forest resources. From there, it was an easy choice to work toward a PhD at OSU. “I came here because of the reputation of the program and the research of my advisor, Dave Hibbs,” Halofsky explains, pausing a moment before adding with a smile, “and Oregon is cool, too.”

Halofsky has had a good deal of time to explore various places in Oregon, particularly the southern area, where much of her research takes place. “Right now, I am studying the effects of fire on riparian areas that burned in the Biscuit and B&B Complex fires,” she says. “We’re looking at fire severity in riparian areas and how that compares to fire severity in the uplands. Additionally, we would like to find out what factors influence the severity of fires in riparian areas.”

Halofsky’s work doesn’t involve only fire severity in riparian areas, but also the vegetation recovery that takes place in riparian areas in the years following a burn. She is looking at what came back in riparian areas of the Biscuit Fire two and four years after the fire. So far, she has found that the damage to soils in riparian areas is less than that in upland areas, but that the amount of tree mortality is still as high. “We believe that this tells us that fire is playing a fairly large role in these riparian areas,” she explains. “However, after these fires, we are seeing a lot of progress in terms of recovery, and it progresses very quickly. We’ve seen a lot of sprouting in various species that existed at both fire sites, and a lot of regeneration in general.”

In the future, Halofsky sees herself expanding her present research into new directions. “I would like to delve a little more into the topic, looking at the frequency of fires in the Biscuit and B&B areas, maybe doing a dendro-ecological kind of study where we’d look at the tree rings to determine fire history in the riparian areas and compare that to the uplands,” she says. “I suggest this because while we now have a pretty good picture of the severity of fires in these regions, we don’t know very much about the frequency at which the fires burn. I think knowing that would give us a better idea of the role fire plays in the environment.”

Although Halofsky is still a student, she already has a good idea of what she would like to accomplish in her career. “One of the things I enjoy is the applied aspect of any of the work I do. I see this benefiting people, particularly managers. Hopefully my research can be used to help them make informed decisions about their forestlands.”

Bio of Jessica Halofsky written by Bryan Bernart, Editorial Assistant, Forestry Communications Group, College of Forestry

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