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Pathways framework identifies wildfire impacts on agriculture

Abstract

Wildfires are a growing concern to society and the environment in many parts of the world. Within the United States, the land area burned by wildfires has steadily increased over the past 40 years. Agricultural land management is widely understood as a force that alters fire regimes, but less is known about how wildfires, in turn, impact the agriculture sector. Based on an extensive literature review, we identify three pathways of impact—direct, downwind and downstream—through which wildfires influence agricultural resources (soil, water, air and photosynthetically active radiation), labour (agricultural workers) and products (crops and livestock). Through our pathways framework, we highlight the complexity of wildfire–agriculture interactions and the need for collaborative, systems-oriented research to better quantify the magnitude of wildfire impacts and inform the adaptation of agricultural systems to an increasingly fire-prone future.

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Fig. 1: Trends in burned area.
Fig. 2: Land cover and fire intensity in the western United States and Sonoma County.
Fig. 3: Pathways of wildfire impacts on agricultural systems.

Data availability

The annual burned area datasets used were open access and obtained from the Global Fire Emissions Database analysis tool (1997–2016)116 and the National Interagency Fire Center (1983–2020)13. Burned areas were converted and reported in square kilometres per year. Land-cover data and fire intensity data in Fig. 2 were extracted from two open-access sites: land-cover data were derived from the National Land Cover Database (NLCD) 2019 (ref. 117) and fire intensity data were derived from the Monitoring Trends in Burned Severity (MTBS) dataset, where fire intensity is rated from 1–4 (low–high) each year118.

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Acknowledgements

We thank A. Vitt for assistance in preparing Fig. 3 and S. Hansen for advice regarding the GFED dataset. We acknowledge support from the USDA NIFA Interdisciplinary Engagement in Animal Systems Program (grant number 2021-68014-34141 to N.D.M.), the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (grant number FF-NIA19-0000000003 to N.D.M.), the Colorado State University School of Global Environmental Sustainability Global Challenges Research Teams (to E.V.F. and N.D.M.), and the BII: Regional OneHealth Aerobiome Discovery Network (BROADN) and NASA Health and Air Quality Applied Sciences Team (HAQAST) Tiger Team (NSF award number 2120117 to S.M.).

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L.K., L.L.S. and N.D.M. designed the study. E.V.F., S.K., S.M., C.S. and M.J.W. contributed content expertise regarding wildfire smoke, human and livestock health, federal fire policy and soil health. E.K. developed Fig. 2. L.K. led the literature review and writing with assistance from all co-authors.

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Correspondence to Lena Kabeshita.

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Nature Food thanks Qingqing Xu and Danielle Touma for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Kabeshita, L., Sloat, L.L., Fischer, E.V. et al. Pathways framework identifies wildfire impacts on agriculture. Nat Food 4, 664–672 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s43016-023-00803-z

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