Co-Producing Fire (coming soon)!

We have recently been funded by NSF!! More details soon:

Quick Abstract:

Proposal #:2215690

PI: Michael R. Coughlan

Co-PI: Bart Johnson

Co-PI: Kelly Derr

Institution: University of Oregon

Co-PI: James Johnston

Co-PI: David Lewis

Institution: Oregon State University

Investigating historical Indigenous use and management of temperate rainforests

This project investigates the historical management of a highly productive temperate rainforest by Indigenous North Americans. The research asks how traditional management practices such as cultural burning and selective harvesting of natural resources may have contributed to forest health and increased resilience to catastrophic wildfire and changing climate. Past Indigenous land management and its legacies are not well understood for temperate rainforests. Prior to colonization of the Pacific Northwest by European peoples, Native Americans successfully stewarded their lands for thousands of years. Recent increases in the frequency and severity of wildfires in rainforests of the Pacific Northwest have focused a new spotlight on the need for improving forest resilience to these changing conditions. This research contributes to efforts to improve forest resilience by informing forest planners about how people successfully lived with and managed these same hazards in the past, and by showing how such practices could guide contemporary forest management practices. It also supports Tribal community efforts to preserve and interpret their cultural heritage, and to re-engage in restoration and stewardship of their traditional lands.

Other studies have examined the long term, intertwined history of temperate rainforests and wildfires, but few have focused on records of fires and other cultural activities preserved within the annual growth rings of trees. Still fewer studies have linked these tree ring histories to the traditional harvesting and burning practices of Indigenous peoples – either through oral tradition or by using archaeological evidence. In collaboration with traditional indigenous culture practitioners, this project integrates tree ring studies and archaeological evidence to reconstruct the history of Indigenous forest management. By synthesizing these diverse sources of information, we will more fully understand how Indigenous cultural practices may have helped build forest health and resilience in the face of potentially catastrophic wildfires. The results will contribute detailed factual evidence that informs current forest management strategies and supports efforts to mitigate the growing threat of extreme wildfires under climate change. 


FireXTR, Portugal 2016

Following our kickoff meeting in Porto, Portugal for the FireXTR project ( we took a field trip to the Arouca region. This past August, Arouca experienced a 25,000 ha wildfire.


Although Portuguese houses are more fire resistant than those in North America, the landscape is nevertheless vulnerable. Pinus pinaster (maritime pine) and Eucalyptus trees with Pteridium (bracken) and Ulex europea (gorse) provide a highly flammable landscape.  But this wasn’t always the case. Agricultural abandonment and ensuing afforestation has only occurred in the last 70  years. Past landscape conditions are evidenced by the extensive terracing exposed by the fire (photo below).



Although fires don’t always destroy houses, they do damage orchards, vineyards, gardens, and compromise agricultural infrastructure.




Grants, Fellowships, Awards

2016-2018 Prevent and prepare society for extreme fire events: the challenge of seeing the forest and not just the trees (FIREXT). Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT). Partner Investigator. Project total: 199,955€.

2016 Travel Assistance, International. Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Georgia. Awarded $1600 for Landscape Archaeology conference in Uppsala, Sweden.

2015 Travel Assistance. Paleofire working group. Workshop on Paleofire: Data-Model Comparisons for the Past Millennium. Harvard Forest, Massachusetts.

2015 Travel Assistance, International. The Royal Society. The interaction of fire and mankind. Chicheley Hall, Buckinghamshire, UK.

2014  Travel Assistance Grant. Office of the Vice President for Research, University of Georgia. Awarded $1500.

2014 Multiproxy investigation of human-climate disturbance interaction in a high altitude catchment using coupled bio-geological archives. Les Observatoires Hommes-Milieux Pyrenees (OHM), Awarded 3000€.

2014 Train2Move, Research Mobility Fellowship, Università degli Studi di Torino. SAFire: Spatiotemporal Analysis of historical Fire spread and disturbance severity in the southern Alps using dendroecological and cadastral archives. Reserve List.

2010-2013, Socio-Ecological Dynamics of Pastoral Fire in the French Pyrenees. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Star Fellowship, Awarded $110,000.

2012-2013 University of Georgia, Graduate School Dissertation Completion Award (tuition & stipend).

2012 Travel, Research, and Educational Experience (TREE) grant, The Association for Fire Ecology, Awarded $800.

2010-2011, Dendrochronological Investigation of Agropastoral Fire in the French Pyrenees. Research Grant, Les Observatoires Hommes-Milieux Pyrenees (OHM),  Awarded 2600€.

2007-2010 Assistantship, Department of Anthropology, University of Georgia (tuition & stipend).

Scholarship recipient, Quaternary Ecosystem Science Training International Group, Workshop on Paleofire, August 2009, Arc-et-Senans, France.

Funding recipient, AIMES Young Scholar’s Network Interdisciplinary Workshop, “Cultural Uses and Impacts of Landscape Fires: Past, Present and Future,” July 2008, NCAR, Boulder, Co.


Co-producing restorative fire: a transdisciplinary approach to indigenous fire stewardship and the restoration of forest resilience. 2020-Current, Principal Investigator.

Forest resilience to wildfires is declining in the Western US, in part, because of the loss of biodiverse mountain meadows and ecotones that buffer the severity of impacts from fire. Indigenous fire stewardship is implicated in the expansion and maintenance of meadows which help buffer against wildfire severity, but the displacement of indigenous peoples coinciding with fire exclusion has led to forest encroachment. We propose to develop a knowledge co-production framework for transdisciplinary and collaborative research on the role of indigenous fire stewardship in the long-term socio-ecological resilience of mountain forests. We hypothesize that indigenous fire stewardship initiated positive socioecological feedbacks that improved ecological resilience to wildfire by expanding meadows while enhancing sustainable harvest of traditionally important plants and animals.

A Research Network for Enhanced Natural Climate Solutions. 2019-Current, Co-Investigator.

This project seeks to assemble a team of leading researchers in social, ecological, and technological systems
(SETs) to develop a net regional network for enhanced natural climate solutions (NCS+) that reconciles
divergent goals for climate change mitigation and urban development. The network will serve as a hub for
transformational research, workforce development, and translational technologies across the Pacific
Northwest (PNW) as a model for the nation. Research will focus on NCS+ technologies and mechanisms
that can accelerate carbon dioxide removal from the atmosphere and increase its permanence on land
while advancing social equity and economic opportunities in rapidly urbanizing landscapes. Two large,
expanding metropolitan areas, two rapidly growing medium-size urban areas, and two small cities, each
with their connected rural systems, will serve as experimental testbeds with an extensive education
portfolio of unique interdisciplinary training and community outreach. The project seeks to fund
nodes in three states, seven leading public universities, three tribal natural resources departments, two
federal research agencies, digital technology partners and unfunded nodes that leverage synergistic
activities led by communities and industries.

Actor Investment in Climate Change Mitigation and Adaptation. 2019-2020 Co-Principal Investigator.

This research project investigates the social and ecological factors that influence the timing of USDA Forest Service management innovations that anticipate or respond to climate change at the National Forests level. Given projected  impacts of global climate change on the world’s forests, land managers face increasing uncertainty in the continued effectiveness of conventional strategies. As a consequence, adaptive management will require science-based management innovations in order to ensure forest resilience. In anticipation of these needs, the USDA Forest Service began the process of conducting Climate Change Vulnerability Assessments to assist National Forest-level line officers in their planning efforts.  Some National Forests have already begun to adopt “climate change innovations”. This project will use a mixed-methods approach to understand how these simultaneous efforts articulate with each other. Our research question asks. What socio-ecological factors influence the adoption timing of robust considerations of climate change at the National Forest level? 

Northwest Forest Plan 25 Year Social and Economic Monitoring. 2018-2019 Project Manager.

The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) initiated conservation measures on federal lands in the western, mesic forest portions of northern California, Oregon, and Washington in order to meet species to ecosystem level conservation goals. The NWFP also attempted to account for and mitigate undesirable social and economic impacts that the plan was expected to cause. Monitoring of social and economic changes in the plan area was a mandated component of the NWFP plan. This project  involves case study-based social and economic monitoring work at 10 individual “communities” across the NWFP.

Understanding and building on the social context of rural Portugal to avoid wildfire disasters. 2019-2022 Co-Principal Investigator (International Partner). Portuguese Science Foundation (FCT), 2019-2022, 200,000€.

This project is an international collaboration focused on Portugal that proposes to develop novel strategies to improve the scarce knowledge of the social context of wildfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression and ensure better implementation of risk and crisis communication programs to increase safety and resilience.

Human-Environment Interaction at the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory (CZO). Postdoctoral Research 2015- 2018 with on-going collaborations.

This NSF funded project investigates human-environment dynamics responsible for significant changes in the Earth’s Critical Zone (CZ), the heterogeneous near-surface environment from “bedrock to treetop”. In collaboration with an interdisciplinary team of environmental scientists, we are conducting research documenting the historical dynamics between human institutions, land use, and the biophysical landscape at the Calhoun CZO on the Sumter National Forests, South Carolina, USA. The Calhoun CZO is a natural laboratory focused on the roles human and natural forces play in shaping the Earth’s critical zone.

FireXTR – Prevent and prepare society for extreme fire events: the challenge of seeing the “forest” and not just the “trees” (Portugal). Partner Investigator. Total Award: 199,995 Euro by the Portuguese Science Foundation (FTC) for the years 2016-2019.

This project investigates prevention and preparedness strategies and measures to contain wildfire risk, to decrease impacts and damages, and to enhance resilience to extreme events. My role involves the ethnographic investigation of local human-fire-landscape interactions by documenting fire use rationale, practices, and risk preferences. This knowledge is essential for assessing wildfire risk and discovering the ways in which community resilience to wildfire may be enhanced. Local solutions to wildfire mitigation provide cost effective methods that have the potential to both reduce unwanted fire ignitions and provide fuel treatment plans.

Comparative Historical Ecology of temperate mountain landscapes (Southern Appalachia and Northern Pyrenees). 2008 – current

Since 2008, I have conducted historical ecology research with an ethnically Basque community in the Soule river basin, Pyrenees Mountains of southern France. My dissertation research, “Fire use, landscape transition, and the social-ecological strategies of households in the French western Pyrenees,” reflects a continued interest in institutional and land use legacies and trajectories of societies in mountain and forest landscapes.

My work in Soule forms a component of an on-going comparative research collaboration between Coweeta LTER and the ITEM laboratory (Identites Territoires, Expressions, Mobilites) based at the Universite de Pau et des Pays de l’Adour (UPPA). This research seeks to understand cause-effect relationships of patterns and process in montane temperate forest systems through a comparison of long term observations and experiments between research sites. This research has been funded by a US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) STAR Fellowship (Assistance Agreement no. FP917243), a FACE-Partner University Fund award to the University of Georgia and to the Université de Pau et du Pays de l’Adour, the National Geographic Society, the National Science Foundation through an award to the Coweeta LTER Program (DEB-0823293), with additional funding and support from the Laboratoire ITEM, Université de Pau et du Pays de l’Adour, and the Laboratoire GEODE, Université de Toulouse – Jean Jaurès.

My role is this project involves the investigation of pastoral fire use, the role of human institutions in fire management, and the long term legacies of fire use and management on the landscape.

MUltiproxy investigation of human-climate Disturbance interaction in a high altitude catchment using CoUPled bio-geological archives (MUDCUP). 2014-2015.

The MUDCUP project proposes a multiproxy historical ecological investigation of human-climate-landscape interactions in a high altitude glacial basin (Lake Majeur, Haut-Vicdessos, Eastern Pyrenees) using disturbance proxies found in coupled bio-geological archives (dendrochronological and lacustrine sediments). This project was conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the Laboratoire GEODE, Université de Toulouse – Le Mirail.

Dendrochronological Investigation of Agro-Pastoral Fire in the French Pyrenees. 2010-2011

This project investigated the feasibility of using dendrochronological evidence for understanding agropastoral burning practices in the area surrounding L’Etangs de Bassies, a series of lakes located in the Vicdessos Valley, central Pyrenees. This project was conducted in collaboration with colleagues from the Laboratoire GEODE, Université de Toulouse – Le Mirail. Results were inconclusive for understanding agropastoral burning practices, however data recovered during this project fed into the MUDCUP project.

Research projects in development

When History Repeats Itself: Intergenerational Livelihood Pathways and Collective Action in Mountain-Forest Communities. Submitted to the National Science Foundation, Cultural Anthropology, Senior Research Award.(2019-2022). Principal Investigator: Michael Coughlan.

The proposed research seeks to understand long-term collective action processes in timber dependent mountain-forest communities by studying adaptive responses to social and ecological changes at the household level. The hypothesis is that mountain-forest communities of place are inherently unstable and best characterized as complex adaptive processes that emerge from household-level livelihood, capital investment pathways, and related strategies of participation in collective action institutions. Using a longitudinal, place-based ethnographic approach, the research will examine the effects of households’ sociocultural attributes on responses to socioecological change in two historically linked communities: Sylva, North Carolina and Darrington, Washington. People living in communities economically dependent on the extraction of natural resources often face abrupt shifts in social and ecological conditions that can force them to decide between changing their livelihood or place of residence. Research in socioecological dynamics of mountain-forest communities suggests that such shifts produce socioeconomic “boom-bust” cycles. In the early-twentieth century many residents of Sylva responded to a reduction in timber-based livelihood opportunities by relocating to Darrington where opportunities in the timber industry expanded through the 1980s. Over the last decades, Darrington’s residents faced difficult socioecological circumstances strikingly similar to early-twentieth century North Carolina that forced them to choose between their commitment to timber-based livelihoods and their community of place. Research in Sylva and Darrington will use a long-term, household-level inquiry to ask (1) how livelihood–related responses to economic boom-bust cycles and other socioecological crises are mediated by sociocultural contexts across long time spans and spatially distant, but historically linked locations, (2) how these responses ultimately determine the character of and capacity for community-level collective action, and (3) how adaptive responses in one community effect adaptive processes in another, spatially distant location.




Coughlan, M., D. Nelson, M. Lonneman, A. Block. 2017. Historical Land Use Dynamics in the Highly Degraded Landscape of the Calhoun Critical Zone Observatory. Land 6 (2):32. doi:10.3390/land6020032.

Roos, C., A. Scott, C. Belcher, W. Chaloner, J. Aylen, M. Coughlan, B. Johnson, F. Johnston, J. McMorrow, T. Steelman, R. Bliege Bird. 2016. Living on a flammable planet: interdisciplinary, cross-scalar, and cross-cultural lessons, prospects, and challenges. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B. 371: 20150469. doi:10.1098/rstb.2015.0469

Kehrwald, N., J. Aleman, M. Coughlan, C. Courtney Mustaphi, E. Githumbi, B. Magi, J. Marlon, M. Power. 2016. One thousand years of fires: Integrating proxy and model data. Frontiers of Biogeography. 8(1):155-159.

Hantson, S., S. Kloster, M. Coughlan, A.-L. Daniau, B. Vannière, T. Brücher, N. Kehrwald, and B. I. Magi. 2016. Fire in the Earth System – bridging data and modelling research. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-D-15-00319.1

Coughlan, M., T. Gragson. 2016. An Event History Analysis of Parcel Extensification and Household Abandonment in Pays Basque, French Pyrenees, 1830-1958 AD. Human Ecology. 44(1): 65-80. doi:10.1007/s10745-016-9808-y

Coughlan, M. 2016. Wildland arson as clandestine resource management: A space-time permutation analysis and classification of informal fire management regimes in Georgia, USA. Environmental Management.  57(5): 1077-1087. doi:10.1007/s00267-016-0669-3.

Gragson T., D. Leigh, M. Coughlan. 2015. Basque Cultural Landscapes of the Western French Pyrenees. Il Capitale Culturale, Studies on the Value of Cultural Heritage. 12: 565-596. doi:10.13138/2039-2362/1153

Leigh, D, T. Gragson, M. Coughlan. 2015. Colluvial legacies of millennial landscape change on individual hillsides, place-based investigation in the western Pyrenees Mountains. Quaternary International. 402(26): 61-71. doi:10.1016/j.quaint.2015.08.031.

Leigh, D, T. Gragson, M. Coughlan. 2015. Chronology and pedogenic effects of mid- to late-Holocene conversion of forests to pastures in the French western Pyrenees. Zeitschrift für Geomorphologie. 59(2): 225-245.

Coughlan, M. 2015. Traditional fire use, landscape transition, and the legacies of social theory past: An overview of theoretical propositions and research priorities in the study of historical fire ecology. Ambio. 44(8): 705-717. doi: 10.1007/s13280-015-0643-y.

Coughlan, M. 2014. Farmers, flames, and forests: historical ecology of pastoral fire use and landscape change in the French Western Pyrenees. Forest Ecology and Management. 312: 55-66.

Coughlan, M. 2013. Unauthorized firesetting as socioecological disturbance: a spatiotemporal analysis of “incendiary wildfires” in Georgia, USA, 1987-2010. Fire Ecology 9(3). 

Coughlan M. 2013. Errakina: Pastoral fire use and landscape memory in the Basque region of the French Western Pyrenees. Journal of Ethnobiology 33(1): 86-104.

Coughlan M. and A. Petty. 2013. Fire as a dimension of historical ecology: A response to Bowman et al.’s The human dimensions of fire regimes on Earth. Journal of Biogeography 40(5): 1010-1012.

Coughlan M. and A. Petty. 2012. Linking humans and fire: a proposal for a transdisciplinary fire ecology. International Journal of Wildland Fire 21:477-487. 

Magi, B., M. Coughlan, A. Ewards, M. Hurteau, A. Petty, F. Seijo, C. Wiedimyer. 2008. Meeting Report from AIMES (Analysis, Integration and Modeling of the Earth System) Young Scholar’s Network Workshop on Cultural Uses and Impacts of Fire: Past, Present, and Future. Eos 89 (40):380.

Coughlan, M. 2004. Large Diameter Trees and the Political Culture of ‘Restoration’: a Case Study of the Grand Canyon Forest Partnership, Flagstaff, Arizona. Arizona Anthropologist 15:48-72.