International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire

Effect of thinning and prescribed burning on crown fire severity in ponderosa pine forests

International Journal of Wildland Fire 11(1) 1 - 10
Published: 13 March 2002


Fire exclusion policies have affected stand structure and wildfire hazard in north American ponderosa pine forests. Wildfires are becoming more severe in stands where trees are densely stocked with shade-tolerant understory trees. Although forest managers have been employing fuel treatment techniques to reduce wildfire hazard for decades, little scientific evidence documents the success of treatments in reducing fire severity. Our research quantitatively examined fire effects in treated and untreated stands in western United States national forests. Four ponderosa pine sites in Montana, Washington, California and Arizona were selected for study. Fuel treatments studied include: prescribed fire only, whole-tree thinning, and thinning followed by prescribed fire. On-the-ground fire effects were measured in adjacent treated and untreated forests. We developed post facto fire severity and stand structure measurement techniques to complete field data collection. We found that crown fire severity was mitigated in stands that had some type of fuel treatment compared to stands without any treatment. At all four of the sites, the fire severity and crown scorch were significantly lower at the treated sites. Results from this research indicate that fuel treatments, which remove small diameter trees, may be beneficial for reducing crown fire hazard in ponderosa pine sites.

Keywords: Pinus ponderosa; Montana; Washington; California; Arizona; fuel treatment; crown fire.

© IAWF 2002

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