Geography 433/533: Fire and Natural Disturbances
Fall 2019

Instructor: Daniel Gavin (
Office: 110 Condon Hall; Phone: 346-5787
Office Hours: Thursdays 2:00-3:30 in 110 Condon or by appointment

Lectures: Tuesday and Thursdays, 10:00-10:50, in 106 Condon.

Required field trips.

Multi-day trip: September 25 noon to late evening September 27. Siskiyou Field Institute. We will use the Siskiyou Field Institute in Selma as a base to explore the fire ecology of the Siskiyou Mountains, including the burns and reburns since the massive Biscuit Fire in 2002. We will explore fire ecology in the redwoods, on different geology and soil types, and from low to high elevation. We will stay in two yurts (male and female) or you may choose to stay in a personal tent, and use outdoor cooking facilities. There will be evening lectures and presentations. A minor amount of reading will be provided before the trip. Transportation will be provided from Eugene. A strict limit of 25 students; enrollment in the entire course is required to attend the field camp, and attending this field camp is a requirement to enroll in the course. We will leave Eugene at 1:00 on September 25 and return by 5:00 pm on the 27th. You will need to provide sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent (if not using group yurt), toiletries, hiking boots, and clothing suitable for days in the forest. Details on the overall trip organization will be provided on the weeks before the trip.

Optional field trip on a date to-be-determined. Optional field trip, to Mt. Pisgah, will be held on October 25. We have transportation provided. Cars will be leaving Onyx Bridge area (parking area between Onyx Bridge and Franklin) at 12:00. Return at 3:30. We will tour prescribed fire and a small wildfire in this State Park.

Note that the shorter amount of class time during the week is offset by the long field trip during week 0.

Click here for the full course schedule for Fall 2019.

Course Overview: Wildland fire is one of the most important natural disturbances of ecosystems.  It is also a disturbance that presents a risk to human society that is difficult to balance among competing interests.  This course will serve as an introduction to disturbance ecology with a focus on wildland fire.  Fire will be examined at many levels: the weather and fuel conditions that result in a range of fire behaviors, the effects of fire on vegetation and ecosystems, and the history of fire including its connection to long-term climate change.  We will study fire as an important process in all of the major biomes, not only the Pacific Northwest.  Other natural disturbances to be addressed include wind, insect outbreaks, ice storms, and drought, all of which have synergistic effects with fire.  The last portion of the class will address human use and suppression of fire, including specific management issues of fire in the Pacific Northwest.

Objectives of the course

  • Understand the patterns and controls influencing natural disturbances over landscapes and through time.
  • Understand the basics of fire behavior and effects on species and ecosystems, including adaptations of species to fire.
  • Learn the autecology of dominant species in Oregon's forests and their response to fire.
  • Examine the historical variability of fire in order to place the current fire landscape in a longer-term context.
  • Develop an in-depth knowledge in an area of fire science of your choice.
Assessment and percent of total grade (some details below):
  • Field trip report: 10%
  • One homework exercise (NEO MODIS hypothesis exploration): 20%
  • One exam: 30%
  • Research paper (tasks distributed throughout term): 40%
    • Geog 433: Case-study assignment
    • Geog 533: A literature review paper

Course materials:

  • Fire on Earth: An Introduction by Scott et al. This is available as a free e-book (Adobe Digital Editions) to UO students (requires login). If the previous link does not work, search for "Fire on Earth: An Introduction" on, then follow links.
  • Optional: Fire Ecology Ecology of the Pacific Northwest by Jim Agee. Island Press. (1993)
  • Additional materials will be posted on Be sure to consult the course schedule each week for up-to-date readings.

Expectations for the course

  1. Attend lecture and field trip(s).  Repeated absences will be noted and, more importantly, you will miss crucial information that will be on the exams.
  2. During lecture please be respectful of everyone's learning experience.  This includes:
    No talking amongst each other.  Please leave your social conversations for outside the classroom.  However, questions during lectures are encouraged.  If you have a question, raise your hand or catch me after class.
  3. Please don't leave in the middle of lecture. It is distracting for many people, including me. If you need to leave, then let me know before the lecture starts, then sit near an exit.
  4. Do not have your laptop open to surf the web.  Note-taking on laptops is OK.
    Cheating, such as copying material from other students on tests, will result in failing the test at a minimum and I will pass the information on to the Dean of Students.  In serious cases, you will flunk the class or be expelled from the university.
  5. Plagiarizing.  Plagiarizing occurs when you copy materials from other sources without citing the source (i.e., taking credit for someone else’s work), or copy someone else’s lab.  All students should be familiar with the material in this guide on avoiding plagiarism (
  6. Incomplete policy.  An “I” grade will be given only under the most unavoidable circumstances.  I can only provide minimal extra help for completing an I grade.  Incomplete grades must be completed during the summer.
  7. Disabilities: I will accommodate all disabilities; please let me know early in the course what these may be. However, effectively participating on the field trips will require hiking distances of up to three miles and being exposed to intense sun or cold rain.

Both undergraduates and graduate students will write a final paper. Details will be presented in a separate document (see Canvas pages). The goals of the paper will be to:

  • Learn to write for a broad audience a balanced article addressing a clearly defined topic.
  • Learn to synthesize data and information from several scientific disciplines
  • Address how scientific data are used in the public policy arena, in the context of your topic.
Field trip report (for the October 12 field trip): A one-page (double-spaced) response to a theme explained at the start of the field trip and discussed on Monday after the trip.  Alternative assignments regarding the assigned reading will be given to students who cannot attend the field trip.  (15% total grade).

One homework exercise TBD.
One exam.  Exam (30% total grade): Closed notes. Multiple choice and very-short answers.  Graduate students will have 50% fewer multiple-choice questions and will have short-answer questions allowing for a longer written answer.  

Wikipedia articles related to this course: Wildfire | Firestorm | Complex_early_seral_forest | Fire_ecology | Disturbance_(ecology) | Patch_dynamics | and several others, for example, on other forms of natural disturbance (landslides, floods (and tropical cyclone-induced flooding), ice storms, insect outbreaks, wind events, beaver activity, drought).

Topics falling outside the scope of this course:

Department of Geography, University of Oregon
Modified May 2019