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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Nicole M. Vaillant; Elizabeth D. Reinhardt
Publication Date: 2017

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy recognizes that wildfire is a necessary natural process in many ecosystems and strives to reduce conflicts between fire-prone landscapes and people. In an effort to mitigate potential negative wildfire impacts proactively, the Forest Service fuels program reduces wildland fuels. As part of an internal program assessment, we evaluated the extent of fuel treatments and wildfire occurrence within lands managed by the National Forest System (NFS) between 2008 and 2012. We intersected fuel treatments with historic disturbance rates to assess the extent to which the program compensates for the disturbance deficit caused by fire suppression and with current wildfire hazard to evaluate whether fuel treatments strategically target high hazard locations. Annually, 45% of NFS lands that would have historically burned were disturbed by fuel treatments and characteristic wildfire, indicating that NFS lands remain in a 'disturbance deficit.' The highest wildfire hazard class had the lowest percentage of area treated and the highest proportion of both wildfire of any severity and uncharacteristically high-severity wildfire, suggesting that an alternative distribution of fuel treatment locations will probably improve program effectiveness. Management and Policy Implications The Forest Service Strategic Plan (USDA Forest Service 2015b) acknowledges the natural role of fire in many ecosystems as well as the potential threat of wildfire to public safety, property, and natural resources. One of the tools used to proactively mitigate potential negative wildfire impacts is fuel treatments. Understanding where past fuel treatments and wildfires have occurred is important for prioritizing future fuel treatments. We found that current treatment implementation is not focused on the areas that would most reduce fire hazard nor is it at a scale that approximates historic disturbance rates across NFS lands. Strategies to reduce fire hazard and achieve the ecological benefits of fire include the following: increasing the extent of fuel treatments if resources permit; designing treatments to create conditions conducive to naturally ignited fires burning under desired conditions while fulfilling an ecological role; and placing treatments to reduce hazard while providing options for firefighting when highly valued resources and assets are present. The data sets employed in this analysis can be used to better inform future fuel treatment placement when appropriate.

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Citation: Vaillant, Nicole M.; Reinhardt, Elizabeth D. 2017. An evaluation of the Forest Service hazardous fuels treatment program-are we treating enough to promote resiliency or reduce hazard? Journal of Forestry 115(4):300-308.

Cataloging Information

Alaska    California    Eastern    Great Basin    Hawaii    Northern Rockies    Northwest    Rocky Mountain    Southern    Southwest    National
  • fuel treatments
  • mechanical treatments
  • resiliency
  • US Forest Service
  • wildfire hazard
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Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 24334