USDA Forest Service

Pacific Northwest Research Station

Pacific Northwest Research Station
333 SW First Ave.
Portland, OR 97204

(503) 808-2100

US Forest Service

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Home > Research > Fire >Fuel Treatments

» Fuel Treatments: Thinning and Prescribed Burns

Frequent, low-severity fires were the norm in many dry forests across the western United States, prior to Euro-America settlement. These fires kept accumulated fuels such as fallen branches and dead trees to a minimum. They cleared out many younger, smaller trees while older trees in these fire-adapted ecosystems developed thick bark that protected them from the heat of periodic fires.

A century of ardent fire suppression and declines in timber harvests on federal land over the past 20 years have left many western forests over-stocked with small trees competing for water. Add drought to the mix and the trees become even more vulnerable to insect outbreak. Forests of stressed trees surrounded by heavy fuel loads are vulnerable to wildfires that are hotter and larger than would have burned historically.

The philosophy behind forest management in the United States has evolved over time. Sixty years ago, federal forests were primarily seen a source of timber. Today they are managed to provide a range of benefits to society, including recreation, timber, water, and wildlife habitat. It’s recognized that fire plays a critical role in nature, serving as an agent of change and renewal. Given current conditions in many federal forests across the West, however, it’s generally thought that some treatment is needed to help restore beneficial fire to the ecosystem. Without intervention, current fuel loads leave many areas at increased risk of catastrophic fire.

Scientists with the Pacific Northwest Research Station work with land managers to develop effective fuel-reduction treatments. These treatments usually include thinning, prescribed burns, or combinations of the two. Station scientists also develop models to help fuel managers and other decisionmakers strategically place fuel treatments to help achieve various goals, such as preserving large trees, improving certain wildlife habitat, and protecting homes in the wildland-urban interface.

Research Examples:


Thinning followed by prescribed burn.
Thinning followed by prescribed burn.


Fuels and Fire Tools

Fuel and Fire Tools is a software application that integrates stand-alone versions of the Fuel Characteristic Classification System, Consume, Fire Emission Production Simulator, and the Pile Calculator. No specific operating system is required. The system allows users to develop fuelbeds and predict fire behavior, fuel consumption, and rate of heat release during wildland fires.

How to get it: Download from


Photo series for quantifying fuels in California, Oregon, and Washington

Researchers created a new photo series for quantifying natural fuels in eastern Oregon sagebrush-steppe and in northern spotted owl nesting habitat in the Pacific Northwest; and grasslands, shrublands, oak-bay woodlands, and eucalyptus forests in the East Bay area of California. The sites were photographed, inventoried, and compiled in field guides to assist land and fire managers who are planning and implementing management activities and managing wildland fires in Washington, Oregon, and California. The field guides are published as two separate general technical reports by the Pacific Northwest Research Station. Data and images were also incorporated into the Digital Photo Series, a Web-based tool for searching and viewing the content of all Natural Fuels Photo Series volumes.

Contact: Clint Wright

Partners: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Region, Fire and Aviation Management; USDI Bureau of Land Management, Oregon State Office; East Bay Regional Park District
For more information:

Wright, C.S.; Vihnanek, R.E.; Restaino, J.C.; Dvorak, J.E. 2012. Photo series for quantifying natural fuels. Volume XI: eastern Oregon sagebrush-steppe and spotted owl nesting habitat in the Pacific Northwest. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-878. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 85 p.

Wright, C.S.; Vihnanek, R.V. 2014. Stereo photo series for quantifying natural fuels. Volume XIII: grasslands, shrublands, oak-bay woodlands, and eucalyptus forests in the East Bay of California. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-893. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 39 p.


Fuel Characteristics Classification System/Forest Vegetation Simulator Postprocessor

The Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS) is used to predict forest stand dynamics. It is used extensively throughout the United States. The Fire and Fuels Extension to FVS, when combined with the Fuel Characteristic Classification System (FCCS), has the potential to model fire effects and succession more realistically and with higher resolution. Postprocessors are stand-alone applications that extend the capabilities of a model. This new postprocessor will integrate the effects of silvicultural and surface fuel treatments, using realistic fuels and making the fuels component more visible, user friendly, and flexible within the modeling system.

The FVS is the standard model used by various government agencies including the USDA Forest Service, USDI Bureau of Land Management, and USDI Bureau of Indian Affairs. The new interface provided by this postprocessor will allow managers to more accurately determine the outcomes of fuel treatments, especially with respect to duration of treatment effectiveness.

How to get it: Tool will be distributed with the FVS program, or downloaded from

Contact: Morris C. Johnson,, Threat Characterization and Management Program


Hand-Piled Fuels Biomass Calculator

This calculator was developed to help fuel managers and air quality regulators manage piled fuels and coordinate piled-fuel disposal through prescribed burning. By using easily measured dimensions, the user can estimate the volume and biomass of piled fuels and the emissions produced when those fuels are burned. The estimation equations were developed from field measurement. Presentation of an earlier version of the calculator capable of only estimating fuel in hand-constructed piles at the Joint Fire Science Program (JFSP) Biomass Roundtable, yielded additional funding from the JFSP to incorporate calculations for estimating volume, biomass, and emissions of machine-constructed piles as well, thereby enhancing this tool for fuel management.

How to get it:

Contact: Clint Wright,, Threat Characterization and Management Program


Ecosystem Management Decision Support system

EMDS version 5.0 provides integrated, spatially enabled, multiscale decision support for environmental analysis and planning. It has been used to develop national level decision-support applications for fuel analysis and fuel-treatment planning for the Forest Service and U.S. Department of the Interior.

The basic objectives of any EMDS application are to (1) develop an improved understanding of the state of the environment at whatever spatial scales are relevant to an application area, and (2) assist with design of strategic solutions for environmental protection and restoration.

EMDS 4.0 continues to maintain compatibility with the latest releases of the world’s leading geographic information system technology, ArcGIS. Numerous major system enhancements were introduced in version 4.0 to improve the robustness and usability of the system and ensure its continued viability for the foreseeable future.


My Fuel Treatment Planner (MyFTP)

MyFTP is designed to allow planners working at the level of a national forest district or similarly sized unit to estimate costs, revenues, economic impacts, and surface fuels resulting from operations designed to reduce fuel loads in fire-prone forests. The software is limited in scope to the dry forests of the western United States. MyFTP is a spreadsheet application developed with Microsoft® Excel® 2002. Its compatibility with spreadsheet software other than Microsoft Excel has not been tested. MyFTP has, however, been tested successfully with Excel 2002-2003 and with Excel 2007.


Fuel Reduction Cost Simulator variants

The Excel-based Fuel Reduction Cost Simulator (FRCS) model estimates the cost of harvesting and collecting biomass from small trees and from forest residues associated with commercial logging operations. The model has variants for the western, southern, and northern regions of the United States.

These new variants of FRCS have been used to develop forest biomass supply curves for all forested counties in the continental United States. The original version was published in 2004 and was limited to forests of the interior West. A request to use the model for a nationwide assessment of the economic supply of biomass available from farm and forest residues and biomass plantations to support bioenergy and biofuels led to this extension of the capabilities of FRCS so that all regions of the United States could be evaluated. An independent cost module also was developed that lets users easily update costs of diesel fuel, equipment, and labor in any part of the country. Production equations from numerous studies on biomass harvesting operations in different regions of the country were incorporated so that users can select the most relevant equations for their needs.


Harvest Cost-Revenue (HCR) Estimator

Harvest Cost-Revenue (HCR) Estimator is a Windows-based financial and engineering software application that calculates the cost of wildfire fuel-reduction treatments on a project-by-project basis. It may be used to evaluate cost-per-acre thresholds for logging contractors, appraise contract bid rates, or assess stumpage values for ponderosa pine stands in the Southwest United States. It illustrates variability in fuel reduction costs as related to the level of fuels reduction achieved, volume of merchantable wood removed from different forest stands, and availability of markets for removed material.







US Forest Service - Pacific Northwest Research Station
Last Modified: Monday,14September2015 at15:18:05CDT

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