Fuel treatments reduce wildfire severity, tree mortality in Washington forests

Aug 25, 2010

A study conducted by U.S. Forest Service and University of Washington (UW) scientists has found that fuel treatments—even of only a few acres—can reduce fire severity and protect older trees desirable for their timber, wildlife, and carbon-storage value. The finding is part of a three-year study of the 175,000-acre Tripod Fire and is published in the August issue of Canadian Journal of Forest Research.

"This study provides the most definitive evidence yet of the effectiveness of fuel treatments in dry forests of the Pacific Northwest," said Susan Prichard, a UW research scientist and senior author of the study. "If dense forests are thinned and the surface fuels are removed, then ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir trees have a better chance of surviving an intense wildfire."

Prichard and her Forest Service colleagues quantified on the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in an area affected by the 2006 Tripod Fire, which burned through forested areas managed to reduce potential fire hazard. Because of the management history of the area, the researchers were able to compare untreated stands, stands that were thinned, and stands that were thinned and then underwent prescribed burns to remove surface fuels.

Results of the comparison revealed that the Tripod Complex fires killed over 80% of trees in stands without treatment and in stands with thinning only. Nearly 60% of trees survived in stands with thinning plus fuel treatment, and three-quarters of larger trees—those with diameters larger than 8 inches—survived.

"It's all about fuels—dead fuels on the ground add energy to wildfire and carry it across the landscape and dense stands of live trees and shrubs act as fuel ladders, moving fire into the canopy," said Dave Peterson, a research biologist with the Forest Service's Pacific Northwest Research Station who coauthored the study. "The objective of fuel treatments is not to eliminate wildfires, but to reduce their intensity in areas where we want to protect resources."

If, as expected, a warmer climate causes an increase in wildfire in future decades, conducting fuel treatments in ecosystems will be an important tool for reducing damage from fire and increasing resilience to climate change.

"If we implement treatments across large areas and place them strategically, we can manage these low-elevation forests sustainably, even in a warmer climate," Peterson said.

Explore further: Greener cities are cooler cities in summer: new guide reveals how

More information: To view the article's abstract online, visit this page.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Pioneering landscape-scale research releases first findings

May 16, 2008

The May issue of the Canadian Journal of Forest Research presents the preliminary findings of 23 scientists involved in one of the first landscape-scale experiments on how forest management affects western Ponderosa pine e ...

Recommended for you

Gold rush an ecological disaster for Peruvian Amazon

1 hour ago

A lush expanse of Amazon rainforest known as the "Mother of God" is steadily being destroyed in Peru, with the jungle giving way to mercury-filled tailing ponds used to extract the gold hidden underground.

Australia out of step with new climate momentum

4 hours ago

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who rose to power in large part by opposing a tax on greenhouse gas emissions, is finding his country isolated like never before on climate change as the U.S., China ...

Education is key to climate adaptation

18 hours ago

Given that some climate change is already unavoidable—as just confirmed by the new IPCC report—investing in empowerment through universal education should be an essential element in climate change adaptation ...

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.