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UBC Theses and Dissertations

An Expert system to predict the ecological effects of prescribed fire Johnston, Michael Macfarlane


This thesis reports the results of a project to develop an expert system to predict the ecological effects of prescribed fire. The central goal of this project was to examine the suitability of the prescribed burning domain for the application of expert systems technology and to recommend a strategy for further research in this area. With the sponsorship of the Protection Branch of the BC Forest Service, several experts were contacted in order to ask for their participation in the Fire Effects Expert System project. Five different experts were consulted and several different conceptual models of the domain were developed. The limiting factor concept was used to model the effects of prescribed fire on the direct and indirect growth factors. A prototype of the Fire Effects system was eventually constructed using the VP-EXPERT software package. Many difficulties in using expert systems technology in the prescribed burning domain were identified. These difficulties include: conflicting viewpoints amongst the different experts, uncertainty of knowledge concerning fire effects, and lack of upper management commitment to the project. However, many favourable factors were identified and these include: the scarcity of domain experts, the qualitative nature of the decisions, the large solution space of the problems, and the existence of a large amount of narrow domain-specific knowledge. Several uses for the Fire Effects system were proposed. These uses include: aiding foresters in developing fire prescriptions, educating forest managers, and serving as a basis for group discussions concerning fire effects. A strategy for further research in the prescribed burning domain was also proposed. The principal features of this strategy are to plan and coordinate the development of expert systems at a high management level, to draw extensively on academic work in the area, and to develop specific standards pertaining to all site information data that is collected by the Forest service.

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