Jeffrey E. Ott, Francis F. Kilkenny, Theresa B. Jain
Year Published:

Cataloging Information

Fire Effects
Fuel Treatments & Effects

NRFSN number: 25351
FRAMES RCS Number: 26588
Record updated: February 24, 2023

Background: The risk of destructive wildfire on fire-prone landscapes with excessive fuel buildup has prompted the use of fuel reduction treatments to protect valued resources from wildfire damage. The question of how to maximize the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments at landscape scales is important because treating an entire landscape may be undesirable or unfeasible. We reviewed 86 simulation studies that examined landscape-scale fuel reduction treatment effectiveness for landscapes of the USA or Canada. Each of these studies tested effects of fuel reduction treatments on wildfire through comparisons of landscape scenarios differing by treatment design or other attributes. Results from these studies were summarized to assess what they reveal about factors determining fuel treatment effectiveness at landscape scales.

Results: Qualifying studies focused primarily but not exclusively on forested landscapes of the western USA and ranged in size from 200 to 3,400,000 ha. Most studies showed that scenarios with fuel reduction treatments had lower levels of wildfire compared to untreated scenarios. Damaging wildfire types decreased while beneficial wildfire increased as a result of treatments in most cases where these were differentiated. Wildfire outcomes were influenced by five dimensions of treatment design (extent, placement, size, prescription, and timing) and other factors beyond the treatments (weather, climate, fire/fuel attributes, and other management inputs). Studies testing factorial combinations showed that the relative importance of these factors varied across landscapes and contexts.

Conclusions: Simulation studies have highlighted general principles of effective fuel treatment design at landscape scales, including the desirability of treating extensive areas with appropriate prescriptions at sufficient frequency to reduce wildfire impacts even under extreme conditions that may be more prevalent in the future. More specific, context-dependent strategies have also been provided, such as a variety of placement schemes prioritizing the protection of different resources. Optimization algorithms were shown to be helpful for determining treatment placement and timing to achieve desired objectives under given constraints. Additional work is needed to expand the geographical scope of these studies, further examine the importance and interactions of driving factors, and assess longer-term effects of fuel reduction treatments under projected climate change.


Ott, Jeffrey E.; Kilkenny, Francis F.; Jain, Theresa B. 2023. Fuel treatment effectiveness at the landscape scale: a systematic review of simulation studies comparing treatment scenarios in North America. Fire Ecology 19:10.

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