After the Smoke Clears – Resources for Addressing Post-fire Weed Invasion and Expansion

(Published 8/2012; Updated 8/2017)

Land managers will soon be faced with addressing the aftermath of wildfire; including a surge of invasive plants.

Catastrophic wildfires of recent decades prompted a number of agencies and researchers to synthesize and expand upon the knowledge-base related to invasive pant issues following wildfires. The following is a short list of literature reviews, handbooks, and published research provides a starting point for exploring issues and developing management guidelines related to invasive plants following wildfires. 

*Fire Facts 2017  as of Sept. 3, 2017, a total of 46,648 fires have burned or are burning 7,378,212 acres, mostly in the western United States.

*Fire Facts 2017
as of Sept. 3, 2017, a total of 46,648 fires have burned or are burning 7,378,212 acres, mostly in the western United States.


Fire Management and Invasive Plants–A Handbook

USDI FIsh and Wildlife Service. 2008.
This manual provides practical guidelines for fire managers to effectively integrate invasive plant management activities into their fire management programs. Focuses on controlled burns, but also includes some information that may be useful for wildland fires. 

Integrated Noxious Weed Management After Wildfires 

Natural Resources Conservation Service. 2001. All U.S. Government Documents (Utah Regional Depository). Paper 587.
This 46-page publication describes practical and proven weed management methods that may be incorporated into a successful burned-area noxious weed management plan. Such a plan helps the land manager prevent weed establishment, mitigate the reestablishment of noxious weeds in burned areas and establish and maintain healthy plant communities.



The Fire Effects Information System

Fire Effects Information System (FEIS) has been providing a syntheses on fire and non-native invasive plants since 1986. This online collection of scientific literature reviews more than 1,100 species, including plants and animals, iand their relationship with fire, providing a wealth of information for landowners and resource managers. 


Rew LJ and Johnson MP. 2010. Invasive Plant Science and Management 3(4):347-364.
Authors evaluate the state of knowledge concerning how nonnative plant species establish, survive, and spread following wildfire in wildland areas for the main vegetation types of the Intermountain West. 


Zouhar K, Smith JK, Sutherland S, Brooks ML. 2008. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-42-vol. 6. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 355 p.
This state-of-knowledge review of information on relationships between wildland fire and nonnative invasive plants can assist fire managers and other land managers concerned with prevention, detection, and eradication or control of nonnative invasive plants. The 16 chapters in this volume synthesize ecological and botanical principles regarding relationships between wildland fire and nonnative invasive plants, identify the nonnative invasive species currently of greatest concern in major bioregions of the United States, and describe emerging fire-invasive issues in each bioregion and throughout the nation. 


Integrated Noxious Weed Management After Wildfires

Goodwin K, Sheley R, and Clarke J. 2002.
This extension bulletin from Montana State University describes site evaluation, revegetation, and integrated weed management after wildfire. The purpose of this publication is to describe practical and proven weed management methods that may be incorporated into a successful burned-area noxious weed management plan. 


Dr. Jane Mangold, Montana State University, September 12, 2012. An excellent webinar that discusses a science-based summary of how invasive plants can increase after fire and why management is important.

Fire Effects on Invasive Weed Seed Germination

Lance T. Vermeire and Matthew J. Rinella USDA-ARS, Fort Keogh Livestock & Range Research Laboratory, Miles City, MT.
Quantifies fire effects on germination of surface deposited seeds of Japanese brome, spotted knapweed, Russian knapweed and leafy spurge.




Characteristics of information available on fire and invasive plants in the eastern United States

Gucker, Corey L.; Zouhar, Kris; Smith, Jane Kapler; Stone, Katharine R. 2012. Fire Ecology. 8(2): 57-81.
This study found that scientific information is limited on fire effects on invasive plants and that land managers must integrate science-based knowledge and experience in determining best management actions.


1997. DiTomaso J, Healy E, Marcum D, Kyser G, Rasmussen M. Calif Agr 51(1):6-11.
Following catastrophic fire, reforestation projects that included an herbicide treatment resulted in rapid growth and reduced mortality of conifers. The study showed that although the initial effect of the herbicide treatment is to reduce native plant species richness, recovery is rapid and plant diversity exceeded that in untreated areas within eight years of application.


Shrub removal in reforested post-fire areas increases native plant species richness


Gabrielle N. Bohlman et al. 2016. Forest Ecology and Management 374:195.
Typical reforestation efforts following wildfire events promote conifer survival and growth by reducing competing shrub cover.  Results of this study suggest that while retaining some shrub cover for post-fire habitat may be desirable, some level of shrub reduction favors native plant richness and overall herbaceous cover.


Brunson MW and Tanaka J. 2011. Rangeland Ecology & Management 64(5):463-470.
Authors offer a synthetic perspective on economic and social aspects of wildfire and invasive plants in American deserts, focusing on the Great Basin because greater research attention has been given to the effects of cheatgrass expansion than to other desert wildfire/invasion cycles. 


Coffman GC, Ambrose RF and Rundel PW. 2010. Biological Invasions. Volume 12, Number 8, Pages 2723-2734. 
This study evaluates the influence of wildfire on Arundo donax invasion by investigating its relative rate of reestablishment versus native riparian species after wildfire burned riparian woodlands along the Santa Clara River in southern California in October 2003.


Ferguson DE, Craig CL. 2010. Res. Pap. RMRSRP-78 Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 12 p. 
This paper presents early results on the response of six non-native invasive plant species to eight wildfires on six National Forests (NFs) in the northern Roc Mountains, USA.


Pokorny ML, Mangold JM, Hafer J and Denny MK. 2010. Invasive Plant Science and Management 3(2):182-189. 
In this study, three herbicide application treatments (broadcast application, spot application, and no herbicide) and three seed mixture treatments (grass-only seed mix, a grass and forb seed mix, no seeding) were tested to determine the ability of herbicide and revegetation treatments to restore spotted knapweed–infested areas to desired plant communities after wildfire.  

Post-Fire Control of Invasive Plants Promotes Native Recovery in a Burned Desert Shrubland

Steers RJ and Allen EB. 2010. Restoration Ecology, 18: 334–343.
Three treatments to control invasive annual grasses and forbs were implemented in the first 3 years following a fire in creosote bush scrub vegetation.