Date of Award

Spring 5-2016

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Geography and Geology

Committee Chair

Bandana Kar

Committee Chair Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Member 2

Grant Harley

Committee Member 2 Department

Geography and Geology

Committee Member 3

George Raber

Committee Member 3 Department

Geography and Geology


The Zuni Mountains are a region that has been dramatically changed by human interference. Anthropogenically, fire suppression practices have allowed a buildup of fuels and caused a change in the fire-adapted ponderosa pine ecosystem such that the new ecosystem now incorporates many fire-intolerant species. As a result, the low-severity fires that the ecosystem once depended on to regenerate the forest are much reduced, and these low-severity fires are now replaced by crown-level infernos that threaten the forest and nearby towns. In order to combat these effects, land managers are implementing fuel reduction practices and are striving to better understand the local ecosystem.

In this study, a predictive fire spread model (FARSITE) was implemented to predict spatio-temporal distribution of fire in the Zuni Mountains based on change in vegetation types that are most prone to fire. Using Landsat imagery and historical fire spread data from 2001 to 2014, the following research questions were investigated: (1) What variables are responsible for fire spread in the Zuni Mountains, New Mexico? (2) Which areas are prone to destructive and canopy level fires? and (3) How have the fuel model types that are most conducive to fire spread changed in the past twenty years? The utilization of spatial modeling and remote sensing to understand the interaction of meteorological variables and vegetation in predicting fire spread in this region is a novel approach. This study showed that (i) fires are more likely to occur in the valleys and high elevation grassland areas of the Zuni Mountains, (ii) certain vegetation types including grass and shrub lands in the area present a greater danger to canopy fire than others, and (iii) that these vegetation types have changed in the past sixteen years.