Fire can be good for people and the land. Removing fire from the landscape can cause ecosystems that need periodic fire to become unhealthy: trees are stressed by overcrowding, fire-dependent species disappear, and flammable fuels build up and become hazardous. The Forest Service manages prescribed fires to benefit natural resources and protect communities. However, in some places and under some conditions it may be too difficult to safely use prescribed burning. This is where the mechanical treatment of hazardous fuels can be a valuable tool.
Mechanical treatment of hazardous fuels means reducing the amount of vegetation which has built up to dangerous levels, or changing the arrangement of these fuels in the environment.
Mechanical treatments can benefit ecosystems and people by:
- Reducing the probability of catastrophic fires;
- Helping maintain and restore healthy and resilient ecosystems;
- Protecting human communities.
Examples of mechanical treatment include the thinning of dense stands of trees, or other fuel treatments that make an area better able to withstand fire. Such treatments might be piling brush, pruning lower branches of trees, or creating fuel breaks to encourage the right kind of fire. Tools that are used to carry out the mechanical treatment of hazardous fuels range from hand tools such as chainsaws and rakes, to large machines like bulldozers and wood chippers.
Mechanical treatment can be used on its own or together with prescribed burning to change how wildfire behaves, so that when a fire does burn through a treated area, it is less destructive, less costly, and easier to control. Often, mechanical fuels treatments are followed by prescribed fire to create effective hazard reduction.
Mechanical treatment can also provide opportunities for woody biomass utilization by providing a renewable source of energy and wood products for local communities.