Restoration and fuel hazard reduction result in equivalent reductions in crown fire behavior in dry conifer forests

TitleRestoration and fuel hazard reduction result in equivalent reductions in crown fire behavior in dry conifer forests
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2022
AuthorsRitter, SM, Hoffman, CM, Battaglia, MA, Jain, TB
JournalEcological Applications
Date Published04/2022
Keywordscrown fire, ecology, fire behavior, fuel hazard reduction, ponderosa pine, restoration, silviculture, Wildland Urban Interface Fire Dynamics Simulator, wildfire, technical reports and journal articles

Over the past several decades, the management of historically frequent-fire forests in the western United States has received significant attention due to the linked ecological and social risks posed by the increased occurrence of large, contiguous patches of high-severity fire. As a result, efforts are underway tosimultaneously reduce potential fire and fuel hazards and restore characteristicsindicative of historical forest structures and ecological processes that enhance the diversity and quality of wildlife habitat across landscapes. Despite widespread agreement on the need for action, there is a perceived tension among scientists concerning silvicultural treatments that modify stands to optimally reduce potential fire behavior (fuel hazard reduction) versus those that aim to emulate historical forest structures and create structurally complex stands (restoration). In this work, we evaluated thinning treatments in the Black Hills National Forest that exemplify the extremes of a treatment continuum that ranges from fuel hazard reduction to restoration. The goal of this work was to understand how the differing three-dimensional stand structures created by these treatment approaches altered potential fire behavior. Our results indicate that restoration treatments created higher levels of vertical and horizontal structural complexity than the fuel hazard reduction treatments but resulted in similar reductions to potential crown fire behavior. There were some trade-offs identified as the restoration treatments created larger openings, which generated faster mean rates of fire spread; however, these increased spread rates did not translate to higher levels of canopy consumption. Overall, our results suggest that treatments can create vertical and horizontal complexity desired for restoration and wildlife habitat management while reducing fire hazard and that they can be used in concert with traditional fuel hazard reduction treatments to reduce landscape scale fire risk. We also provide some suggestions to land managers seeking to design and implement prescriptions that emulate historical structures and enhance forest complexity.