Quantifying the Effects of Fuels Reduction Treatments on Fire Behavior and Post-Fire Vegetation Dynamics
Principal Investigator(s):
  • T. Scott Rupp
    Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning (SNAP)
Co-Principal Investigator(s):
  • Bret W. Butler
    US Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory
  • Colin C. Hardy
    US Forest Service, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory
Completion Date: December 13, 2011

Cataloging Information

  • FERA - Fire and Environmental Research Applications Team
  • forest management
  • fuel reduction
  • mechanical treatment
  • post-fire vegetation
  • thinning
  • vegetation dynamics
JFSP Project Number(s):
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: March 23, 2016
FRAMES Record Number: 13717


Concerns about wildland fuel levels and a growing wildland-urban interface (WUI) have pushed wildland fire risk mitigation strategies to the forefront of fire management activities. Mechanical (e.g., shearblading) and manual (e.g., thinnings) fuel treatments have become the preferred strategy of many fire managers and agencies. However, few observations exist that document the actual effect of different fuel treatments on fire behavior. Alaska's Federal and State fire management agencies have identified this 'data gap' as their most important fire science research need and priority. To address this need, we propose to quantify the effects of different mechanical and manual fuel treatments on fire behavior and transfer that information to the Federal and State fire management community through a series of technical reports and peer-reviewed journal articles. Our proposed study site represents an ideal location because of its proximity to Fairbanks, existing road network, large area (550 acres) of homogenous fuels, and a current burn plan available for amendment. Our proposed sample design provides for three experimental burn units to allow for limited replication and offer easy access to plots. Within each burn unit, four fuel treatment plots (150 x 150 m) will be established. We will conduct paired burn measurements to facilitate direct comparisons between the control vegetation matrix and the treatments. We will test 8 x 8 ft thinnings pruned to 4 ft under three different fuel removal strategies: (1) haul away, (2) burn piles on site, and (3) windrow and burn on site. In addition, we will test four shearblading treatments; with and without windrowing of debris and with and without pile burning. Quantification of fire behavior will be limited to the thinning treatments. Direct observations (but no instrumentation) of fire behavior will be made in the shearblading treatments. Alaska's fire managers and the Alaska Wildland Fire Coordination Group (AWFCG) provided prioritization of the treatments to be tested. We will inventory the existing vegetation, including ground vegetation, understory and overstory trees and tree crowns, organic layer, and dead-down woody surface fuels throughout the control vegetation matrix. Following treatments we will inventory understory and overstory trees and tree crowns, organic layer, and dead-down woody surface fuels. All vegetation measurements will be re-measured post-burn. Fire behavior will be monitored extensively from the time of ignition until steady state behavior ceases using a combination of cameras, video, direct observations, and thermal dataloggers. Consumption plots will be located in both treatment units (thinnings and shearbladings) and the control vegetation. Post-fire vegetation recovery, following initial post-fire vegetation measurements, will be documented in all treatments and the control vegetation matrix for the duration of the project. Our proposed research builds upon and links to several other JFSP sponsored projects and proposals, as well as other funded projects of our research team members. We anticipate that this proposed research will lead to the first quantified tests of the effects of fuel reduction treatments on fire behavior in Alaska. Our results will provide the data required by fire behavior models (FARSITE, BEHAVE, and NEXUS), fuels characterization system (FCCS), and fire effects models (CONSUME). In addition, we hope to develop guidelines directed at sampling design and methodology issues that can be used to assist in carrying out other experimental burns when the opportunity arises. This proposal addresses the stated local research needs of Alaska's fire management community. This research had direct application potential to current and future fuels mitigation efforts in both Alaska and the Intermountain West.