Advances in fire modeling help quantify and map various components and characterizations of wildfire risk and furthermore help evaluate the ability of fuel treatments to mitigate risk. However, a need remains for guidance in designing landscape-scale fuel treatments with protection objectives, resource management objectives, and wildfire response in mind. It is also important to consider how human factors related to risk tolerance may affect opportunities to manage fire. We build on these themes to illustrate an approach for examining whether, and how, fuel management can simultaneously minimize housing exposure while maximizing area suitable for expansion of beneficial wildfire. We generate multiple hypothetical post-treatment conditions according to distinct treatment prioritization schemes (Housing Protection, Federal Transmission, Random) and variable treatment extents and compare performance across strategies for a 8.5 million ha case study landscape in north-central New Mexico, USA.
In general, we find that treating near housing units can provide the greatest level of protection relative to treating more remote wildlands to reduce transmission potential. Treating on federal lands to reduce federal transmission was highly effective at reducing exposure from federal fires and at expanding opportunities for beneficial fire but contributed comparatively little to reducing housing exposure from all fires. We find that treatment extents as low as 2.5–5% can yield significant benefits with spatially optimized strategies, whereas the random strategy did not perform comparably until reaching a much larger treatment extent. Increasing risk tolerance for housing exposure expanded the area suitable for managed fire, while decreasing risk tolerance for beneficial fire opportunity and flame length probability shrunk the area suitable for managed fire.
This work provides a contribution in terms of explicitly framing risk analysis and fuel treatment design around federal land and resource management objectives and adds to the knowledge base for designing effective landscape fuel treatment strategies that can protect communities and expand beneficial wildfire on a fire-prone landscape. Successful integration of these themes requires embracing all pillars of the National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy, including coordinated management of fuels on various ownerships, home ignition zone mitigation, and cross-boundary fire response planning that can guide fire operations in reducing transmission and expand response options.
Fire Ecology 18, Article number: 26.