WWETAC Projects

Project Title:  Operational program for updating wildland fuel data for non-forested landscapes

Principal Investigator:   Matt Reeves, Research Ecologist (Rangeland Scientist), US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula, MT


Collaborators:   Henry Bastian, Department of Interior, Office of Wildland Fire Coordination

Key Issues/Problem Addressed:              

Current fire behavior and decision support systems such as the Interagency Fuels Treatment Support System (IFT-DSS), Wildand Fire Decision Support System (WFDSS) and Rapid Assessment of Values at risk (RAVAR) rely on current spatial data depicting the amount and condition of fuels across the landscape, especially where significant invasions of exotic species exist.  The LANDFIRE Project has completed mapping wildland fuels for the contiguous 48 states and Alaska.  However, these data represent the state of the ecosystem circa 2001.  Recent discussion with more than 150 fire and fuel professionals has identified the strong need for annual updates of fuel conditions in non-forested landscapes to account for regional and inter-annual differences in vegetation productivity and potential fire behavior. 

Setting and Approach:  

Here we propose to facilitate improved risk assessment and decision support through development of a satellite-based fuels monitoring program enabling characterization of wildland fuels on non-forest landscapes for all contiguous 48 states.  Annual biomass is estimated by calibrating Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI) data from the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) sensor with annual production estimates from the Soil Survey Geographic Database (SSURGO).  Combining fractions of the previous two years’ production estimates with current production enables estimates of 1 and sometimes 10 hr. fuel categories which permits updating of surface fire behavior fuel models for use in fire behavior processors such as FARSITE, FlamMap or Behave.  

Progress to Date:

Surface fire behavior fuel models (Anderson 1982 and Scott and Burgan 2005) have been updated from 2001 through 2012 and were provided to decision support systems and fire behavior analysts for testing during the 2012 fire season. Nearly 290 million acres were updated to reflect fuel changes from 2001 to 2012.


The updated and efficacious wildland fuels data developed here will enable better evaluations of fire behavior enabling more strategic, timely and accurate decisions.  Potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars will likely be saved through improved modeling abilities.  Further, since the fuels characterization and updating system will be operational, it can be used indefinitely into the future, providing better fuel data for years to come.