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

Effectiveness of prescribed fire as a fuel treatment in Californian coniferous forests

Nicole M. Vaillant A B C , Jo Ann Fites-Kaufman B and Scott L. Stephens A
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A Division of Ecosystem Science, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management, 137 Mulford Hall, University of California, Berkeley, CA 94720-3114, USA.

B USDA Forest Service, Adaptive Management Services Enterprise Team, 631 Coyote Street, Nevada City, CA 95959, USA.

C Corresponding author. Email: nvaillant@fs.fed.us

International Journal of Wildland Fire 18(2) 165-175 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF06065
Submitted: 18 May 2006  Accepted: 5 August 2008   Published: 2 April 2009

Abstract

Effective fire suppression and land use practices over the last century have altered forest structure and increased fuel loads in many forests in the United States, increasing the occurrence of catastrophic wildland fires. The most effective methods to change potential fire behavior are to reduce surface fuels, increase the canopy base height and reduce canopy bulk density. This multi-tiered approach breaks up the continuity of surface, ladder and crown fuels. Effectiveness of fuel treatments is often shown indirectly through fire behavior modeling or directly through monitoring wildland fire effects such as tree mortality. The present study investigates how prescribed fire affected fuel loads, forest structure, potential fire behavior, and modeled tree mortality at 90th and 97.5th percentile fire weather conditions on eight National Forests in California. Prescription burning did not significantly change forest structure at most sites. Total fuel loads (litter, duff, 1, 10, 100, and 1000-h) were reduced by 23 to 78% across the sites. The reduction in fuel loads altered potential fire behavior by reducing fireline intensity and increasing torching index and crowning index at most sites. Predicted tree mortality decreased after treatment as an effect of reduced potential fire behavior and fuel loads. To use limited fuel hazard reduction resources efficiently, more effort could be placed on the evaluation of existing fire hazards because several stands in the present study had little potential for adverse fire effects before prescribed fire was applied.

Additional keywords: fire behavior modeling, fire hazard, fire risk, Fuels Management Analyst, wildfire.


Acknowledgements

This research was funded by the USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Fire and Aviation Management. We would like to thank J. Moghaddas, B. Collins, and four anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier drafts which greatly improved this manuscript.


References


Agee JK (2002) The fallacy of passive management managing for firesafe forest reserves. Conservation in Practice  3(1), 18–25.
CrossRef |

Agee JK (2003) Monitoring post-fire tree mortality in mixed-conifer forest reserves of Crater Lake, OR. Natural Areas Journal  23, 114–120.


Agee JK , Skinner CN (2005) Basic principles of forest fuel reduction treatments. Forest Ecology and Management  211, 83–96.
CrossRef |

Agee JK, Bahro BB, Finney MA, Omi PN, Sapsis DB, Skinner CN, van Wagtendonk JW , Weatherspoon CP (2000) The use of shaded fuelbreaks in landscape fire management. Forest Ecology and Management  127, 55–66.
CrossRef |

Albini F (1976) Estimating wildfire behavior and effects. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report INT-30. (Odgen, UT)

Alexander ME (1988) Help with making crown fire hazard assessments. In ‘Protecting People and Homes from Wildfire in the Interior West: Proceedings of the Symposium and Workshop’, 6–8 October 1988, Missoula, MT. (Eds WC Fisher, SF Arno) USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report INT-251, pp. 147–156. (Ogden, UT)

Beaty RM , Taylor AH (2001) Spatial and temporal variation of fire regimes in a mixed conifer forest landscape, Southern Cascades, California, USA. Journal of Biogeography  28, 955–966.
CrossRef |

Biswell HH (1959) Man and fire in ponderosa pine in the Sierra Nevada of California. Sierra Club Bulletin  44, 44–53.


Biswell HH (1961) The big trees and fire. National Parks Magazine  35, 11–14.


Biswell HH, Kallander HR, Komarek R, Vogl RJ, Weaver H (1973) Ponderosa fire management: a task force evaluation of controlled burning in ponderosa pine forests of central Arizona. Tall Timbers Research Station, MISC2. (Tall Timbers Research Station: Tallahassee, FL)

Brown JK (1974) Handbook for inventorying downed woody material. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experimental Station, General Technical Report INT-16. (Ogden, UT)

Brown JK , Arno SF (1991) The paradox of wildland fire. Western Wildlands  17(1), 40–46.


Carlton D (2005) Fuels Management Analyst Plus Software, v. 3.0.8. (Fire Program Solutions, LLC: Estacada, OR)

Chapman HH (1926) Factors determining natural regeneration of longleaf pine on cut-over lands in the LaSalle Parish, Louisiana. In ‘Bulletin Number 16’. (Yale School of Forestry: New Haven, CT)

Collins BM, Miller JD, Thode AE, Kelly M, van Wagtendonk JW , Stephens SL (2009) Interactions among wildland fires in a long-established Sierra Nevada natural fire area. Ecosystems  12, 114–128.
CrossRef |

Dodge M (1972) Forest fuel accumulation – a growing problem. Science  177, 139–142.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Finney MA, Bartlett R, Bradshaw L, Close K, Collins BB, Gleason P, Hao WM, Langowski P, McGinley J, McHugh CW, Martison E, Omi PN, Shepperd W, Zeller K (2003) Fire behavior, fuel treatments, and fire suppression on the Hayman fire. In ‘Hayman Fire Case Study’. (Ed. RT Graham) USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-114, pp. 127–130. (Fort Collins, CO)

Finney MA, McHugh CW , Genfell IC (2005) Stand- and landscape-level effects of prescribed burning on two Arizona wildfires. Canadian Journal of Forest Research  35, 1714–1722.
CrossRef |

Franklin JF , Agee JK (2003) Forgoing a science-based national forest fire policy. Issues in Science and Technology  20, 59–66.


FRAP (2008) Fire and resource assessment program GIS data. (California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection) Available at http://frap.cdf.ca.gov/data/frapgisdata/select.asp [Verified 23 January 2009]

Fry DL , Stephens SL (2006) Influence of humans and climate on the fire history of a ponderosa pine–mixed conifer forest in the south-eastern Klamath Mountains, California. Forest Ecology and Management  223, 428–438.
CrossRef |

Gill SJ, Biging GS , Murphy E (2000) Modeling tree crown radius and estimating canopy cover. Forest Ecology and Management  126, 405–416.
CrossRef |

Kauffman JB , Martin RE (1989) Fire behavior, fuel consumption, and forest-floor changes following prescribed understory fires in Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests. Canadian Journal of Forest Research  19, 455–462.
CrossRef |

Keyes CR , O’Hara KL (2002) Quantifying stand targets for silvicultural prevention of crown fires. Western Journal of Applied Forestry  17(2), 101–109.


Kilgore BM , Briggs GS (1972) Restoring fire to high-elevation forests in California. Journal of Forestry  70(5), 266–271.


Kilgore BM , Sando RW (1975) Crown fire potential in a sequoia forest after prescribed burning. Forest Science  21, 83–87.


Knapp EE, Keeley JE, Ballenger EA , Brennan TJ (2005) Fuel reduction and coarse woody debris dynamics with early and late season prescribed fire in a Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest. Forest Ecology and Management  208, 383–397.
CrossRef |

Leopold A, Cain SA, Cottam CM, Gabrielson IN , Kimball TL (1963) Wildlife management in the national parks. American Forestry  69, 32–35.


Main WA, Paananen DM, Burgan RE (1990) Fire Family Plus. USDA Forest Service, North Central Forest Experiment Station, General Technical Report NC-138. (Saint Paul, MN)

Martinson EJ, Omi PN (2003) Performance of fuel treatments subjected to wildfires. In ‘Fire, Fuels Treatments, and Ecological Restoration Conference Proceedings’, 16–18 April 2002, Fort Collins, CO. (Eds DD Murphy, PA Stine) USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Proceedings RMRS-P-29, pp. 7–13. (Albany, CA)

Miller C , Urban DL (2000) Modeling the effects of fire management alternatives on Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Ecological Applications  10(1), 85–94.


Miller JD, Safford HD, Crimmins M , Thode AE (2009) Quantitative evidence for increasing forest fire severity in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains, California and Nevada, USA. Ecosystems  12, 16–32.
CrossRef |

Moghaddas JJ , Craggs L (2007) A fuel treatment reduces fire severity and increases suppression efficiency in a mixed conifer forest. International Journal of Wildland Fire  16, 673–678.
CrossRef |

Moody TJ, Stephens SL, Fites-Kaufman J (2006) Fire history and climate influences from forests in the Northern Sierra Nevada, USA. Fire Ecology 2(1), 115–141. Available at http://www.fireecology.net/pdfs/vol2/moody.pdf [Verified 23 January 2009]

NFAM (2004) National Fire and Aviation Management Web Applications. Available at http://fam.nwcg.gov/fam-web/weatherfirecd/california.htm [Verified 23 January 2009]

Pollet J , Omi PN (2002) Effect of thinning and prescribed burning on crown fire severity in ponderosa pine forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire  11, 1–10.
CrossRef |

Pyne SJ (1982) ‘Fire in America: a Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire.’ (Princeton University Press: Princeton, NJ)

Reinhardt ED, Crookston NL (2003) The Fire and Fuels Extension to the Forest Vegetation Simulator. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-116. (Ogden, UT)

Reinhardt ED, Keane RE, Brown JK (1997) First order Fire Effects Model, FOFEM 4.0, user’s guide. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report INT-344. (Ogden, UT)

Reinhardt ED, Keane RE, Scott JH (2000) Methods for characterizing crown fuels for fire modeling. Report on File at USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory. (Missoula, MT)

Rothermel RC (1983) How to predict the spread and intensity of forest and range fires. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Research Station, General Technical Report INT-143. (Ogden, UT)

Schmidt DA, Taylor AH , Skinner CN (2008) The influence of fuels treatment and landscape arrangement on simulated fire behavior, Southern Cascade range, California. Forest Ecology and Management  255(8–9), 3170–3184.
CrossRef |

Scott JH, Burgan RE (2005) Standard fire behavior fuel models. A comprehensive set for use with Rothermel’s surface fire spread model. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-153. (Fort Collins, CO)

Scott JH, Reinhardt ED (2001) Assessing crown fire potential by linking models of surface and crown fire behavior. USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Research Paper RMRS-RP-29. (Fort Collins, CO)

Stephens SL (1998) Evaluation of the effects of silvicultural and fuels treatments on potential fire behavior in the Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests. Forest Ecology and Management  105, 21–35.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL (2001) Fire history of adjacent Jeffrey pine and upper montane forests in the eastern Sierra Nevada. International Journal of Wildland Fire  10, 161–176.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL (2005) Forest fire causes and extent on United States Forest Service lands. International Journal of Wildland Fire  14, 213–222.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL , Collins BM (2004) Fire regimes of mixed conifer forests in the north-central Sierra Nevada at multiple spatial scales. Northwest Science  78(1), 12–23.


Stephens SL , Finney MA (2002) Prescribed fire mortality of Sierra Nevada mixed conifer tree species, effect of crown damage and forest floor combustion. Forest Ecology and Management  162, 261–271.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL , Moghaddas JJ (2005a) Experimental fuel treatment impacts on forest structure, potential fire behavior, and predicted tree mortality in a California mixed conifer forest. Forest Ecology and Management  215, 21–26.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL , Moghaddas JJ (2005b) Silvicultural and reserve impacts on potential fire behavior and forest conservation, twenty-five years of experience from Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forests. Biological Conservation  125, 369–379.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL , Ruth LW (2005) Federal forest-fire policy in the United States. Ecological Applications  15(2), 532–542.
CrossRef |

Stephens SL, Moghaddas JJ, Ediminster C, Fiedler CE, Hasse S, Harrington M, Keeley JE, McIver JD, Metlen K, Skinner CN, Youngblood A, Fire treatment effects on vegetation structure, fuels, and potential fire behavior and severity from six western United States coniferous forests. Ecological Applications, in press.

Taylor AH (2000) Fire regimes and forest change in mid and upper montane forests of the Southern Cascades, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA. Journal of Biogeography  27, 87–104.
CrossRef |

Van Wagner CE (1968) The line intercept method in forest fuel sampling. Forest Science  14, 20–26.


Van Wagner CE (1977) Conditions for the start and spread of crown fire. Canadian Journal of Forest Research  7, 23–34.
CrossRef |

Van Wagner CE (1993) Prediction of crown fire behavior in two stands of jack pine. Canadian Journal of Forest Research  23, 442–449.
CrossRef |

van Wagtendonk JW (1996) Use of a deterministic fire growth model to test fuel treatments. In ‘Sierra Nevada Ecosystems Project, Final Report to Congress, vol. II. Assessments and Scientific Basis for Management Options’. pp. 1155–1165. (University of California, Centers for Water and Wildland Resources: Davis, CA)

van Wagtendonk JW (2007) The history and evolution of wildland fire use. Fire Ecology 3(2), 3–17. Available at http://www.fireecology.net/journal/Vol%203/No%202/3(2)%20van%20Wagtendonk-1.pdf [Verified 23 January 2009]

van Wagtendonk JW, Benedict WM , Sydoriak CA (1998) Fuel bed characteristics of Sierra Nevada conifers. Western Journal of Applied Forestry  13, 1145–1157.


Weaver H (1943) Fire as an ecological and silvicultural factor in the ponderosa pine region of the Pacific slope. Journal of Forestry  41, 7–15.


Westerling AL, Hildago HG, Cayan DR , Swetnam TW (2006) Warming and earlier spring increases western US forest wildfire activity. Science  313(5789), 940–943.
CrossRef | PubMed |

Zar JH (1999) ‘Biostatistical Analysis.’ (Prentice-Hall: Upper Saddle River, NJ)



Export Citation Cited By (22)