Forest Fires and Adaptation Options in Europe: Modeling Climate Change, Fuel Reduction and Suppression

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Sensitivity analysis of suppression efficiency for the SFM model calibrated using GFED data for years 2000–2008. Changes in burned areas per country are in percents relative to burned area corresponding to calibrated value of q (values of q vary within ±10 % range)

Thanks to 2nd Law’s comments about Bayesian analysis, I went hopping down a bunny trail of decision science links, and ran across this. It addresses how Europeans might adapt to climate change vis a vis wildfires. It’s interesting to take a look at how these scientists approach the problem that we have been talking about in the Western U.S.

Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents a quantitative assessment of adaptation options in the context of forest fires in Europe under projected climate change. A standalone fire model (SFM) based on a state-of-the-art large-scale forest fire modelling algorithm is used to explore fuel removal through prescribed burnings and improved fire suppression as adaptation options. The climate change projections are provided by three climate models reflecting the SRES A2 scenario. The SFM’s modelled burned areas for selected test countries in Europe show satisfying agreement with observed data coming from two different sources (European Forest Fire Information System and Global Fire Emissions Database). Our estimation of the potential increase in burned areas in Europe under “no adaptation” scenario is about 200 % by 2090 (compared with 2000–2008). The application of prescribed burnings has the potential to keep that increase below 50 %. Improvements in fire suppression might reduce this impact even further, e.g. boosting the probability of putting out a fire within a day by 10 % would result in about a 30 % decrease in annual burned areas. By taking more adaptation options into consideration, such as using agricultural fields as fire breaks, behavioural changes, and long-term options, burned areas can be potentially reduced further than projected in our analysis.

Here’s a free link to the article.
Here’s the description of the way the study was done and the problem framed (how to deal with fire as climate changes):

The present study is designed to explore the impact of adaptation options with regard to forest fires in Europe under projected climate change reflecting the SRES A2 scenario (Nakicenovic and Swart 2000) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The main aims of our study are: (1) to quantify the potential impacts of climate change on burned area in Europe under “no adaptation” scenario and compare the results with existing literature and (2) to extend that assessment with quantitative estimation of the potential effectiveness of different adaptation measures at pan-European scale. Among the different adaptation options, we test fuel removal via prescribed burnings and enhancement of fire suppression. These options were developed in consultation with relevant stakeholders, who provided essential inputs to the research.

Note that for the purposes of this scientific study, the discipline of historic vegetation ecology does not enter in to the framing of the issue. The implicit assumptions is that people want to reduce the burned area which will otherwise increase due to climate change.

Also this was interesting although the Australia claim did not have a cite.

The results of our study in terms of the estimated impact of prescribed burnings on burned areas, even though not always directly comparable, are in line with other studies on the effectiveness of prescribed burning for fire hazard reduction. For instance, a difference of about three times between the average size of a wildfire in treated and untreated areas in US has been shown (Fernandes and Botelho 2003). Similar results have also been obtained in Australia, where the average wildfire size was reported to be 50 % smaller in treated areas.


  1. European forestry is often ahead of the US, this is another example. Their forests are impressive to say the least, many tracts are on the fifth or sixth rotation. Many of their innovations have been adapted to our forest types. I would highly recommend anybody truly interested in forestry to take a trip and explore Austrian and German forests.

  2. I agree that it is notable that ecology is not part of this discussion. It’s Smokey Bear armed with the latest science about fire suppression and still believing that we can have less fire than nature wants. But maybe over there that has something to do with the 5 or 6 rotations of industrial forests. I don’t think European “forests” are the “ahead” that this country wants (and at least for now that’s what our laws say, too).

    • Several of the common ideas promoted as reasons used to delay or often stop commercial harvests; protecting critical habitat, protecting riparian areas, reducing carbon emissions, and clean air. As I sit here, in what the EPA has determined to be very unhealthy air, smoke from wildfires, I wonder which of the above we are succeeding with protection? Is there a report that shows damage over the last two decades to the items listed above, from commercial harvest? I highly doubt there have been any operations that have destroyed the thousands of acres of critical habitat, miles of riparian habitat or released the millions of tons of carbon as wildfires. Since human life appears to be of little consequence we can ignore the thousands of displaced people and the hundreds of homes destroyed.
      We can have less fire than nature wants and we can maintain more critical habitat than what nature leaves in the wake of these wildfires. But it won’t happen with the inept suppression tactics of the federal agencies and it won’t happen without sensible forest management.

  3. What this does not seem to address is the trade-offs such as fuel reduction vs habitat, and fuel reduction versus carbon storage.

    It’s interesting to optimize a single (or a few) objective(s) but real world land management is rarely that simple.

  4. Most of the west is breathing one of the trade offs to fuel reduction, the NSO seems to have lost hundreds of thousands of acres of habitat over the last 20 years as a trade off to harvesting, miles of riparian habitat are suffering the trade off of a lack of aggressive fire suppression, but what should be most important is the trade offs people, many of which live on property that was in their family prior to there even being a national forest system, must make due to a complete lack of responsible forest management.

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