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Science basis for changing forest structure to modify wildfire behavior and severity

Author(s): Russell T. Graham, Sarah M. McCaffrey, Theresa B. Jain
Year Published: 2004

Fire, other disturbances, physical setting, weather, and climate shape the structure and function of forests throughout the Western United States. More than 80 years of fire research have shown that physical setting, fuels, and weather combine to determine wildfire intensity (the rate at which it consumes fuel) and severity (the effect fire has on vegetation, soils, buildings, watersheds, and so forth). As a result of fire exclusion, timber harvesting, and livestock grazing, millions of acres of forestlands (mainly in dry forests dominated by ponderosa pine and/or Douglas-fir) contain a high accumulation of flammable fuels compared to conditions prior to the 20th century. Forests with high stem density and fuel loading combined with extreme fire weather conditions have led to severe and large wildfires (such as those seen in the summers of 2000 and 2002 and the fall of 2003) that have put a number of important values at risk. Although homes in the path of a wildfire are perhaps the most immediately recognized value, these wildfires also put numerous other human and ecological values at risk, such as power grids, drinking water supplies, firefighter safety, critical habitat, soil productivity, and air quality.

Citation: Graham, Russell T.; McCaffrey, Sarah; Jain, Theresa B. 2004. Science basis for changing forest structure to modify wildfire behavior and severity. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-120. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 43 p.
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Fuels
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Synthesis, Technical Report or White Paper
NRFSN number: 15018
FRAMES RCS number: 5767
Record updated: May 24, 2018