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Low-intensity fires mitigate the risk of high-intensity wildfires in California’s forests

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The increasing frequency of severe wildfires demands a shift in landscape management to mitigate their consequences. The role of managed, low-intensity fire as a driver of beneficial fuel treatment in fire-adapted ecosystems has drawn interest in both scientific and policy venues. Using a synthetic control approach to analyze 20 years of satellite-based fire activity data across 124,186 square kilometers of forests in California, we provide evidence that low-intensity fires substantially reduce the risk of future high-intensity fires. In conifer forests, the risk of high-intensity fire is reduced by 64.0% [95% confidence interval (CI): 41.2 to 77.9%] in areas recently burned at low intensity relative to comparable unburned areas, and protective effects last for at least 6 years (lower bound of one-sided 95% CI: 6 years). These findings support a policy transition from fire suppression to restoration, through increased use of prescribed fire, cultural burning, and managed wildfire, of a presuppression and precolonial fire regime in California.
Xiao Wu, Erik Sverdrup, Michael D. Mastrandrea, Michael W. Wara, Stefan Wager
Xiao Wu et al. ,Low-intensity fires mitigate the risk of high-intensity wildfires in California’s forests.Sci. Adv.9,eadi4123(2023).DOI:10.1126/sciadv.adi4123
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