USDA Forest Service

Adaptive Management Services


United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Enterprise

United States Department of Agriculture USDA Forest Service Enterprise - Reinvention Lab

Effectiveness & Longevity of Fuel Treatments in Coniferous Forests Across California

Project Overview:

To date the majority of research surrounding the effectiveness of fuel treatments only considers the time immediately after treatment. Starting in 2001, permanent plots were established in areas planned for hazardous fuel reduction treatments across National Forests in California. Between 2001 and 2006 forest structure and fuels data has been collected at 26 sites across 14 National Forests in coniferous ecosystems for pre-, one year post-, and often two year post-treatment. Treatments include prescribed fire, mechanical methods, and a combination of the two.

This project will directly address questions pertaining to:

  1. How fuel structure (ground, surface, and canopy) changes over time based on vegetation type and treatment type;
  2. The length of time fuel treatments are effective in reducing undesirable fire behavior and effects and how the effectiveness changes over time;
  3. What re-treatment intervals are needed for various treatment types to maintain desired fire effects; and
  4. The uncertainty associated with using standard fuel models in assessing treatment effectiveness, longevity, and maintenance.

The longevity of treatment effectiveness and determination of appropriate re-treatment intervals will be assessed by quantifying changes in fuel conditions and potential fire behavior over time. The progression of fuel (ground, surface, and canopy) accumulation over time will be assessed to see how long different treatments in varying coniferous forests last from a fuel mass standpoint. In addition, fire behavior modeling will be applied to predict the effectiveness of fuel treatments according to metrics such as modeled fire type and flame length. Modeling potential fire behavior requires assumptions on the application of quantitative fuel data to the models. We will contrast potential fire behavior changes found when using existing fuel models and custom fuel models with actual fuel conditions. The information on longevity of fuel treatments and uncertainty in fire behavior model inputs will be of direct benefit to managers preparing burn plans, other fuel hazard reduction plans, fire management, and other land management planning.

Data Access:

Data (ground, surface and canopy fuel metrics, and modeled fire behavior for the 90th percentile conditions) will be available by Forest Service district after field data collection has been completed(Fall/Winter 2011 is the target). Available now is information about the number of projects, plots, Forest Vegetation (FVS) Simulator Variant, Remote Automated Weather Stations (RAWS), and data availability by Forest district.

Pre Post1 Post2 Post5 Post8 Post10
87 83 87 42 46 5

Number of pre- and post-treatment of plots per time step by the end of the project (post 1 and post 2 numbers might vary slightly based on Forest ability to implement treatments):

Related Publications & References

Joint Fire Science Program Proposal (2008) JFS-09-1-01-1

Vaillant, NM, J Fites-Kaufman, AL Reiner, EK Noonan-Wright, SN Dailey (2009) Effect of fuel treatments on fuels and potential fire behavior in California National Forests. Fire Ecology 5(2):14-29

Vaillant, NM, J Fites-Kaufman, SL Stephens (2009) Effectiveness of prescribed fire as a fuel treatment in Californian coniferous forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire 18:165-175

Prescribed Fire & Fuel Treatment Effectiveness & Effects Monitoring Program

From 2000 to 2006 the Pacific Southwest Region Fire and Aviation Management conducted a systematic monitoring of fire effects and effectiveness of fuel treatments across the region. Treatments included a variety of prescribed fire and mechanical fuel treatment projects in chaparral, forested, and mixed shrub-forested ecosystems. This monitoring program was the predecessor to the work being completed under the current Joint Fire Science Program grant. For more information about the larger monitoring project, and reports please visit the monitoring website

Contact information

Principal Investigator: Nicole Vaillant, Pacific Northwest Research Station, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Assessment Center (

Co- Principal Investigators: Scott Dailey, Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team ( and Erin Noonan-Wright, National Fire Decision Support Center (

Field crew lead: Kevin McCrummen, Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team (

USDA Forest Service - Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Unit
Last Modified: Monday, 16 December 2013 at 14:19:00 CST