The effectiveness of fire fuel reduction

An invited feature in this month’s issue of Ecological Applications focuses on the U.S. National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, a five-year effort to assess the effectiveness of wildfire reduction methods currently in use by forest management agencies. The study compares the effectiveness of fire fuel reduction methods on restoring ecosystem health to national forests.

ResearchBlogging.orgMany U.S. forests once experienced frequent natural fires that removed low-lying, dry, mostly dead plants that fueled these burns. But human activities, such as livestock grazing, preferential logging and outright fire suppression or exclusion have led to changes in forest structure. Increases in tree density, smaller tree size and increased fuel load place as many as 10 million hectares of U.S. forest at high risk of hazardous fires, the authors write.

Four articles in this issue examine the effects of prescribed burns, mechanical treatment (usually thinning of plant matter) and a combination of both with control plots at 12 study sites in forests across the U.S.

Under severe weather conditions, the authors found that all treatments were effective at reducing fire severity. More specifically, they report that to quickly restore forests with few, large-diameter trees, a combination of prescribed burns and brush removal achieved the best results.

The authors note, however, that this combination treatment also favored nonnative species invasions at some sites. In addition, a combination of prescribed burns and mechanical thinning increased the incidence of tree death from bark beetles and wood borers.  The authors therefore recommend caution and case-by-case assessments of best management practices for different forest types.

Read the open-access feature here.

McIver, J., Youngblood, A., & Stephens, S. (2009). The national Fire and Fire Surrogate study: ecological consequences of fuel reduction methods in seasonally dry forests
Ecological Applications, 19 (2), 283-284 DOI: 10.1890/07-1785.1

Author: Christine Buckley

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