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Modelling the effect of accelerated forest management on long-term wildfire activity

Author(s): Alan A. Ager, Ana M. G. Barros, Rachel M. Houtman, Robert C. Seli, Michelle A. Day
Year Published: 2020
Description:

We integrated a widely used forest growth and management model, the Forest Vegetation Simulator, with the FSim large wildfire simulator to study how management policies affected future wildfire over 50 years on a 1.3 million ha study area comprised of a US national forest and adjacent lands. The model leverages decades of research and development on the respective forest growth and wildfire simulation models, and their integration creates a strategic forest landscape model that has a high degree of transparency in the existing user communities. The study area has been targeted for forest restoration investments in response to wildland fires that are increasingly impacting ecological conditions, conservation areas, amenity values, and surrounding communities. We simulated three alternative spatial investment priorities and three levels of management intensity (area treated) over a 50-year timespan and measured the response in terms of area burned, fire severity, wildland-urban interface exposure and timber production. We found that the backlog of areas in need of restoration on the national forest could be eliminated in 20 years when the treatment rate was elevated to a maximum of 3× the current level. However, higher rates of treatments early in the simulation created a future need to address the rapid buildup of fuels associated with understory shrub and tree regeneration. Restoration treatments over time had a large effect on fire severity, on average reducing potential flame length by up to 26% for the study area within the first 20 years, whereas reductions in area burned were relatively small. Although wildfire contributed to reducing flame length over time, area burned was only 16% of the total disturbed area (managed and burned with prescribed fire) under the 3× management intensity. Interactions among spatial treatment scenarios and treatment intensities were minimal, although inter-annual variability was extreme, with the coefficient of variation in burned area exceeding 200%. We also observed simulated fires that exceeded four times the historically recorded fire size. Fire regime variability has manifold significance since very large fires can homogenize fuels and eliminate clumpy stand structure that historically reduced fire size and maintained landscape resiliency. We discuss specific research needs to better understand future wildfire activity and the relative influence of climate, fuels, fire feedbacks, and management to achieve fire resiliency goals on western US fire frequent forests.

Citation: Ager, Alan A.; Barros, Ana M. G.; Houtman, Rachel M.; Seli, Robert C.; Day, Michelle A. 2020. Modelling the effect of accelerated forest management on long-term wildfire activity. Ecological Modelling 421:108962. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecolmodel.2020.108962
Topic(s): Fire Behavior, Simulation Modeling, FVS, Recovery after fire, Restoration
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 21079
FRAMES RCS number: 60841
Record updated: May 5, 2020