Wildland Fire management: Are actively managed forests more resilient than passively managed forests?

TitleWildland Fire management: Are actively managed forests more resilient than passively managed forests?
Publication TypeReport
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsO'Laughlin, J
Series TitlePolicy Analysis Group
Document NumberIsse Brief No. 15
Date Published10/2013
InstitutionUniversity of Idaho
Keywordsfuels and fuels treatments, technical reports and journal articles

Large areas of federal lands in the western states are currently at high risk of severe wildfire and have many insect and disease problems, indicating a significant decline in forest health and resilience. Although research studies have not been done that would measure whether actively managed forests are more resilient to wildfires than passively managed forests, results from studies of hazardous fuels treatment effectiveness and the economic benefits from avoided costs of future wildfire suppression due to fuels treatment can be used to support an affirmative reply to the question. If a forest management project includes hazardous fuels treatments at a sufficiently large scale, placed strategically so that there is a high likelihood that future fire behavior would be modified under all but the most severe weather conditions, then economic benefits from avoided costs of future fire suppression can be sufficient to justify investments needed to implement the fuels treatments. This positive benefit-to-cost relationship would be improved by including avoided costs of site rehabilitation and, in some cases, monetary returns from the sale of timber products. Passive management (benign neglect) is appropriate for wilderness areas designated by statute, and perhaps other areas administratively withdrawn from timber production. Passive management promises surprises instead of active management’s deliberate choice of objectives and means to attain them in support of the ecological, economic, and social goals inherent in sustainable forest management. Active management can provide a triple win by improving forest conditions, especially wildfire resilience; providing useful consumer products with renewable energy feedstocks as a by-product; and revitalizing rural communities by putting people to work. Improved long-term carbon storage is a bonus.