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Scientists Assess Effectiveness of Fuels Reduction Treatments in California

Photo of A study site in the Tahoe National Forest, eight years after prescribed fire. USDA Forest Service.A study site in the Tahoe National Forest, eight years after prescribed fire. USDA Forest Service.Snapshot : Fuel treatments are used to abate undesirable fire behavior and effects. Short-term effectiveness of fuel treatments to alter fire behavior and effects is well documented; however, long-term effectiveness is not well known.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Vaillant, Nicole 
Research Location : California
Research Station : Pacific Northwest Research Station (PNW)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 764

Summary

Forest service scientists evaluated surface fuel load, vegetation cover, and forest structure before and after mechanical and fire-only treatments over eight years across 11 national forests in California: Inyo, Klamath, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit, Lassen, Modoc, Mendocino, Plumas, San Bernardino, Shasta-Trinity, Stanislaus, and Tahoe. Eight years after treatment, total surface fuel load returned to 67 to 79 percent and 55 to 103 percent of pretreatment levels following fire-only and mechanical treatments respectively.

Fire-only treatments warranted re-entry at eight years to reduce accumulating fuel, understory vegetation and small-diameter trees. This interval would maintain and extend the intended effectiveness of fuels reduction treatments. In general, mechanical treatments were more effective but elevated surface fuel loads, canopy base height reductions in later years and lack of restoration of fire as an ecological process suggest that that adding prescribed fire to this treatment would be beneficial.

This information can be used by land managers and practitioners when preparing specialist reports for the NEPA process.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team
  • Pacific Southwest Region
  • Southern Research Station
  • Wildland Fire Management Research and Development