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Individual Highlight

Windows of Opportunity for Allowing Wilderness Fires to Burn

Photo of Maps of the likelihood of unsuppressed ignitions spreading outside the wilderness study area boundary for each month of ignition in simulated fire seasons. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Maps of the likelihood of unsuppressed ignitions spreading outside the wilderness study area boundary for each month of ignition in simulated fire seasons. U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service.Snapshot : A goal of fire management in wilderness is to allow fire to play its natural ecological role without intervention. Unfortunately, most unplanned ignitions in wilderness are suppressed, in part because of the risk they might pose to values outside of the wilderness. Forest Service scientists capitalize on recent advances in fire risk analysis to demonstrate a risk-based approach for revealing where unplanned ignitions in wilderness pose little risk to non-wilderness values and therefore where fire can be managed for its longer term ecological benefits. Although this approach was demonstrated in the context of wilderness fire management, it has broad applicability and could support spatial fire and fuels management planning efforts in non-wilderness settings.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Miller, Carol L. Parks, Sean A.
Research Location : Northern Rockies
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2016
Highlight ID : 1156

Summary

The fire management community has embraced the concept of risk assessment for all fire and fuels management activities, and geospatial analysis tools are commonly used to map where fire is likely to cause damage. Forest Service scientists are adapting these concepts and tools for use in the wilderness context, where the goal of fire management is to allow fire to play its natural ecological role. They used spatial risk analysis tools to map the likelihood that an unplanned ignition in wilderness would escape the wilderness boundary or reach the wildland-urban interface and to identify where and when “windows of opportunity” exist for allowing wilderness fires to burn. Importantly, these maps can reveal opportunities for managing wildfires for their resource benefits and thus integrate well with land management plans and spatial fire management plans. In addition, output from the analysis can be used to summarize escape probability in terms of escaped fire size, distance to the boundary, and month of ignition. They propose to refine and streamline these methods so that maps depicting “windows of opportunity” can be readily generated for any management unit and be used to inform forest and fire management planning.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Don Helmbrecht, Forest Service Enterprise Program (Ops-WO)
  • Joe Scott, Pyrologix LLC
  • Kevin Barnett, University of Montana

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