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Individual Highlight

Developing strategies to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration.

Photo of Forest Service fire fighter using a drip torch on a prescribed burn. Forest Service fire fighter using a drip torch on a prescribed burn. Snapshot : Two published papers by Forest Service scientists are a foundation for the new forest plans being developed by three of the eight early adopter national forests (Sierra, Sequoia and Inyo). The action proposed in the papers, using fire to restore and maintain remote forestlands, was directly incorporated into their forest plans.

Principal Investigators(s) :
North, Malcolm P. 
Research Location : Sierra Nevada of California
Research Station : Pacific Southwest Research Station (PSW)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1385


With less than 20 percent of the Sierra Nevada's forested landscape receiving needed fuels treatments, and the need to frequently re-treat many areas, the current pattern and scale of fuels reduction is unlikely to ever significantly advance restoration efforts. One means of changing current practices is to concentrate large-scale fuels reduction efforts and then move treated areas out of fire suppression into fire maintenance. A fundamental change in the scale and objectives of fuels treatments is needed to emphasize treating entire firesheds and restoring ecosystem processes. Western U.S. efforts to increase the pace and scale of fuels treatment and forest restoration often rely on mechanical treatment because of limitations on using managed fire. Forest Service scientists found that with only 25 percent of national forestland in the Sierra Nevada available to mechanical treatment, there is limited ability to affect wildfire extent and severity in many areas; furthermore, when these mechanical constraints are grouped and examined by subwatershed, almost half of these subwatersheds have too little mechanically available acreage to affect potential wildfire behavior. Mechanically treatable areas are often not optimally located for containing wildfire but are well situated as anchors from which prescribed burning and managed wildfire might be expanded. Rather than primarily planning and placing mechanical treatments to contain and suppress wildfire, many treatments could be targeted to facilitate the reintroduction of beneficial fire. After adoption of a new planning rule, three of the first eight National Forests developing new Land and Resource Management Plans ("early adopters") are in the southern Sierra Nevada. the scientists’ analysis suggests that new plans consider identifying areas and weather conditions under which fire is allowed to burn. Efforts to increase the pace and scale of fuels reduction and forest restoration are unlikely to succeed without more extensive and innovative use of managed fire.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • USFS Region 5 Planning
  • University of California at Berkeley