Effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments

Wallow fire, two burn areasA report has been released that had the objective of determining if fuel reduction treatments are effective in reducing the severity and cost of wildland fires. It was prepared for the U.S. Department of Interior’s Office of Wildland Fire by the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University. The reason it was written is interesting, according to the report: (emphasis added)

The Office of Management and Budget, Government Accountability Office and the United States Congress have repeatedly asked the Office of Wildland Fire in the Department of Interior and the United States Forest Service to critically examine and demonstrate the role and effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments for addressing the increasing severity and cost of wildland fire. Federal budget analysts want to know if and when investments in fuel reduction treatments will reduce federal wildland fire suppression costs, decrease fire risk to communities, and avert resource damage.

The report has a catchy title: The efficacy of hazardous fuel treatments: A rapid assessment of the economic and ecologic consequences of alternative hazardous fuel treatments: A summary document for policy makers.

Here are a few of the conclusions reached by the 12 authors and researchers:

  • Studies that use the avoided cost approach to examine the cost of fire demonstrate that treatments result in suppression cost savings.
  • Modeling studies that evaluate the effectiveness of fuels treatments in terms of changes in wildland fire size, burn probabilities, and fire behavior demonstrate that fuel treatments applied at the proper scale can influence the risk, size, and behavior of fire therefore reducing suppression cost.
  • Modeling demonstrates that fuel reduction treatments are effective at reducing fire behavior (severity) where implemented, and can successfully reduce fire risk to communities.
  • Although few studies exist on the topic, fuel reduction treatments significantly enhance the price of adjacent real estate, whereas homes in close proximity to a wildfire experience lower property values.


Video: the current state of wildfire and fuel management

Steve Smith told us about this video that he created with Walter Gallacher. It is very well done, with good images and a thoughtful narrative. It summarizes the state of wildfire and fuel management, or the lack thereof, in the United States.

WILDFIRE, Forest fires in the American West from Steven G. Smith on Vimeo.

Below is the description of the video, from VIMEO:

An environmental multimedia story on forest fires in the American West.

Ever since we seized fire from nature at the dawn of our civilization it has defined us. We have prided ourselves on our ability to control it and shape it to our needs. But the same fire that fuels our internal combustion engines and powers are industry is overheating our planet. Earth’s rising temperature is stressing our forests and our wildlands and spawning catastrophic wildfires around the globe.

In our effort to tame fire it seems we have made it more feral. Rising spring and summer temperatures in the West have created a fire season that lasts ten weeks longer than in the 1970’s and results in larger and more frequent blazes.

These new blazes known as “megafires” are erupting at a rate seven times greater each year in the past decade and are burning upward of 10,000 acres and sterilizing the earth with their intensity.

Utilizing powerful images of these megafires this film reflects on our relationship with fire, past and present, and wonders how fire will define our future.

Script and narration by Walter Gallacher
Produced and photographed by Steven G. Smith

We asked Mr. Smith about his involvement with fire and his motivation for making the film. Here is his response:

I began to photograph wildfires as a staff photojournalist about fifteen years ago, I was stunned by the devastation and power of these disasters. Last year I decided that I wanted to do more than just document these as individual events. I teamed up with Walter Gallacher to create an educational multimedia piece. Our goal was to create a short film designed to increase awareness and hopefully effect change.

Over the years I have been truly overwhelmed by the commitment and dedication of the many wildland firefighters that I worked with. This story is dedicated in their honor.

Agencies object to CAL FIRE’s draft vegetation treatment plan

At least two agencies have filed criticisms of a draft Environmental Impact Report developed by California’s Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The plan for the California Statewide Vegetation Treatment Program determines how vegetation would be managed to lower the risk of catastrophic wildfires on 38 million acres of state responsibility land. After it is approved, individual thinning, herbicide, or prescribed fire projects would not have to obtain separate approvals under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Below is an excerpt from an editorial in the LA Times:

…For all its length, though, the report is disturbingly vague about what the state proposes to do and where. Many wildfire experts say the study is outdated on the science of fire ecology and treats very different natural landscapes as though they were the same. The state’s Department of Fish and Wildlife responded to the report with serious criticisms, saying among other things that the plan could cause substantial environmental damage. A letter from the National Park Service is downright scathing, slamming the report for numerous inaccuracies, accusing Cal Fire of ignoring important scientific studies and openly questioning whether the plan even meets the legal requirements for this type of EIR.

“If implemented, the proposed program would cause significant, irreversible and unmitigable environmental impacts to natural resources in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area on a large scale, while producing few if any of the fire safety benefits stated as goals of the program. As such, it would represent a very poor use of public funds,” wrote Robert S. Taylor Jr., a fire specialist with the Park Service. “I strongly recommend that Cal Fire withdraw the current proposal and produce a new one based on best available science.”


Explaining forest management in 100 seconds

This animated video explains forest management, prescribed burning, fire return interval, and fuel management in 100 seconds.

The video is very well done and gets its point across quite efficiently, however it may be obvious to some that it was produced by an organization like the Oregon Forest Resources Institute which represents forest producers, small woodland owners, forest sector employees, academia, and the general public. The group appears to be similar to the Idaho Forest Products Commission that came up with the “Thin the Threat” bumper sticker last year.Thin the Threat bumper sticker

via @FireAviationNPS

Video: using old burns to help manage new fires

The Southwest Fire Science Consortium has produced a 12-minute video about taking advantage of previously burned areas when managing new fires. Here is the
Consortium’s description of the video:

Over the past two decades the size of wildfires has dramatically increased across the Southwest. These large burned areas have become so common that newer wildfires are burning into and around them. Fire managers increasingly use these previous burns as treatments that either stop or slow fire spread. The interaction of past and current wildfires has important management and ecological consequences.

The video will be useful for anyone who is not aware that the spread of a wildland fire slows when it moves into a previously burned area, or an area with less fuel. The technical aspects of the video are excellent, including the editing, videography, and sound, while the appearance of the subject matter experts is similar to what we saw in another one produced by the Consortium about vegetation mastication.

Nebraska offers cost-share fuel reduction program

Chadron State Park fuels treatment

The state of Nebraska is offering to help forest landowners pay for the costs of reducing the fuel loads on their land. Using state and federal funds, the Nebraska Forest Service (NFS) is able to provide eligible forest landowners up to 75 percent cost-share assistance for fuels treatment projects. These programs are currently open to forest landowners in the Pine Ridge and Niobrara Valley areas. Other fuels treatment opportunities exist for Nebraska landowners whose land is adjacent to National Forest land.

In the future fuels treatment assistance programs may spread to communities in other areas if they have completed a Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

More information is available in a NFS pamphlet (large 2.7MB file).