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Forest structure and fire hazard in dry forests of the Western United States

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Fire, in conjunction with landforms and climate, shapes the structure and function of forests throughout the Western United States, where millions of acres of forest lands contain accumulations of flammable fuel that are much higher than historical conditions owing to various forms of fire exclusion. The Healthy Forests Restoration Act mandates that public land managers assertively address this situation through active management of fuel and vegetation. This document synthesizes the relevant scientific knowledge that can assist fuel-treatment projects on national forests and other public lands and contribute to National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) analyses and other assessments. It is intended to support science-based decisionmaking for fuel management in dry forests of the Western United States at the scale of forest stands (about 1 to 200 acres). It highlights ecological principles that need to be considered when managing forest fuel and vegetation for specific conditions related to forest structure and fire hazard. It also provides quantitative and qualitative guidelines for planning and implementing fuel treatments through various silvicultural prescriptions and surfacefuel treatments. Effective fuel treatments in forest stands with high fuel accumulations will typically require thinning to increase canopy base height, reduce canopy bulk density, reduce canopy continuity, and require a substantial reduction in surface fuel through prescribed fire or mechanical treatment or both. Long-term maintenance of desired fuel loadings and consideration of broader landscape patterns may improve the effectiveness of fuel treatments.

D.L. Peterson; M.C. Johnson; D. McKenzie; J.K. Agee; T.B. Jain; E.D. Reinhardt

Peterson DL, Johnson MC, McKenzie D, Agee JK, Jain TB, Reinhardt ED. Forest structure and fire hazard in dry forests of the Western United States. Portland: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station; 2005 p. 30. Available from:

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