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Wildfire exposure and fuel management on western US national forests

Author(s): Alan A. Ager, Michelle A. Day, Charles W. McHugh, Karen C. Short, Julie W. Gilbertson-Day, Mark A. Finney, David E. Calkin
Year Published: 2013
Description:

Substantial investments in fuel management activities on national forests in the western US are part of a national strategy to reduce human and ecological losses from catastrophic wildfire and create fire resilient landscapes. Prioritizing these investments within and among national forests remains a challenge, partly because a comprehensive assessment that establishes the current wildfire risk and exposure does not exist, making it difficult to identify national priorities and target specific areas for fuel management. To gain a broader understanding of wildfire exposure in the national forest system, we analyzed an array of simulated and empirical data on wildfire activity and fuel treatment investments on the 82 western US national forests. We first summarized recent fire data to examine variation among the Forests in ignition frequency and burned area in relation to investments in fuel reduction treatments. We then used simulation modeling to analyze fine-scale spatial variation in burn probability and intensity. We also estimated the probability of a mega-fire event on each of the Forests, and the transmission of fires ignited on national forests to the surrounding urban interface. The analysis showed a good correspondence between recent area burned and predictions from the simulation models. The modeling also illustrated the magnitude of the variation in both burn probability and intensity among and within Forests. Simulated burn probabilities in most instances were lower than historical, reflecting fire exclusion on many national forests. Simulated wildfire transmission from national forests to the urban interface was highly variable among the Forests. We discuss how the results of the study can be used to prioritize investments in hazardous fuel reduction within a comprehensive multi-scale risk management framework.

Citation: Ager, Alan A.; Day, Michelle A.; McHugh, Charles W.; Short, Karen; Gilbertson-Day, Julie W.; Finney, Mark A.; Calkin, David E. 2014. Wildfire exposure and fuel management on western US national forests. Journal of Environmental Management. 145: 54-70
Topic(s): Wildland Urban Interface, Fuel Treatments & Prescriptions, Risk & Uncertainty
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 12756
FRAMES RCS number: 17854
Record updated: Jun 30, 2016