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How to measure, describe and map wildland fuels

The six sites selected for this study include: 1) Lubrecht Forest, Montana; 2) Tenderfoot Forest, Montana; 3) Ninemile, Montana; 4) Bighole Valley, Montana; 5) Silver Mountain, Utah; and 6) Colville Forest, Washington., RMRS19b.jpg: The sample grid installed in the center of each study area with the four areas that received additional sampling to intensify the grid. A set of nested plots were installed at each of the sample points shown. Forest ServiceSnapshot : Results from a new study have profound implications for fire management and may render many conventional fuel products and analyses inappropriate for fire behavior simulations.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Keane II, Robert E.  
Research Location : Western U.S. states
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2011
Highlight ID : 399


Wildland fuel is important to fire managers because it is the one factor that can be directly manipulated to achieve management goals, such as restoring ecosystems, lowering fire intensity, minimizing plant mortality, and reducing erosion. However, managers often find it difficult to measure, describe, and map wildland fuels because of the great variability in the characteristics of fuelbed components. Thus, few have attempted to quantify this variability to understand its effect on fire spread, burning intensity, and ecological effects.

Researchers with the Rocky Mountain Research Station investigated a number of fuel characteristics across major surface and canopy fuel components that comprise northern Rocky Mountain forest and range fuelbeds.

They found that most fuel components have high variability that increases with fuel particle size. They also found that surface and canopy fuel components vary across different scales, with components having smaller fuel particles varying over 1- meter scales, while large logs vary at scales of 100 meters; canopy fuel attributes vary over 400 meters.

Results from this study have profound implications for fire management in that the measured high spatial variability that is different across fuel components may render many conventional fuel products and analyses inappropriate for fire behavior simulations. Findings and data from this study can be used to map fuel characteristics, such as loading, at finer scales to accommodate the next generation of three dimensional fire behavior prediction models. New fuel classifications can be developed to describe the variability of fuel across the different sizes and types of fuels in the fuelbed. For more information, visit:

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