USA — Forest fires, fuels and finances each play a significant role in determining wildland strategy, and each have been discussed recently by the Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors.
Californias fire strategy has come under scrutiny from many in recent history, with a sharp increase in suppression costs and increased risk to homes prompting officials to rethink their approach to forest management.
A 2008 report, titled Objectives and considerations for wildland fuel treatment in forested ecosystems of the interior western United States, prepared by Elizabeth D. Reinhardt, Robert E. Keane, David E. Calkin and Jack D. Cohen, highlights the various changing views on fuel management and forest health.
The abstract to the report states, Many natural resource agencies and organizations recognize the importance of fuel treatments as tools for reducing fire hazards and restoring ecosystems. However, there continues to be confusion and misconception about fuel treatments and their implementation and effects in fire-prone landscapes across the United States.
This paper (1) summarizes objectives, methods, and expected outcomes of fuel treatments in forests of the Interior West, (2) highlights common misunderstandings and areas of disagreement, and (3) synthesizes relevant literature to establish a common ground for future discussion and planning.
It is important to understand the strengths and limitations of fuel treatments to evaluate their potential to achieve an objective, develop sensible fire management policies, and plan for their effective use.
We suggest that, while the potential of fuel treatment to reduce wildfire occurence or enhance suppression capability is uncertain, it has an important role in mitigating negative wildfire effects, increasing ecosystem resilience and making wildfire more acceptable.
The introduction begins by saying, It is generally accepted that past management practices including the successful suppression of many wildland fires in some western United States ecosystems over the last 70 years have resulted in excessive accumulations of surface and canopy fuels which have, in turn, increased the potential for severe fires.
The report also states that many scientists and natural resource agencies are in agreement on the effectiveness of implementing extensive fuel treatments in order to lessen the severity of wildfires and possibly save from destruction ecosystems, property and human life.
However, there are a number of misconceptions and misunderstandings about fuel treatments and their use as a panacea for fire hazard reduction across the United States, the report continues.
The report explains that the fuel treatments referred to in its pages include mechanical, silvicultural (the care and cultivation of forest trees), or burning activity whose main objective is to reduce fuel loadings or change fuel characteristics to lessen fire behavior or burn severity. Specific examples given include thinning raking, prescribed fire and mastication, which refers to such methods as flailing, chipping and breaking.
Fuels are defined as live and dead surface and canopy biomass that are burned in wildland fire. Surface fuels include downed, dead woody biomass and live and dead shrub and herbaceous material.
The canopy fuels refer to tree branchwood and foliage, arboreal mosses, lichens and hanging dead material.
Also discussed in the introduction are the differences between wildland areas, defined as largely unaltered forested areas, and Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) areas, defined as land where structures and development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels.
The large difference, according to the report, is that WUI areas present a challenge due to the different types of ownerships in the interface and the different objectives presented by the various owners.
Management of these boundary areas often attempts to reduce potential property loss as well as restoring or maintaining ecosystems. Prescribed fire and wildland fire use are the primary fuel treatments in wildland settings with a greater emphasis on mechanical fuel reduction treatments in WUI areas, the report states.
The first section of the report identifies the objectives for treating wildland fuel.
In general, fuel treatments are designed to alter fuel conditions so that wildfire is less difficult, disruptive, and destructive.
However, implicitly and explicitly, managers, the public, special interest groups and policy makers often assume different specific objectives for fuel treatments. These differences in expectation can lead to polarization of what could be a non divisive issue.
The reports authors then go on to reveal what they believe are common misconceptions about fuel reduction strategies and effects. A deeper look at the report will follow in Mondays edition of the Siskiyou Daily News.