How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the 2011 Wallow Fire Report

This report is very well-written and user-friendly (IMHO) and focuses on the topic with excellent photos (which a reader pointed out I had clipped and used without reference). Thanks much to the writers and photographers!

This fuel treatment effectiveness assessment was developed by:
Pam Bostwick, Fuels Specialist, U.S. Forest Service, Southwest Region, Albuquerque, N.M.
Jim Menakis, Fire Ecologist, U.S. Forest Service, National Headquarters detached, Missoula, Mont.
Tim Sexton, District Ranger, U.S. Forest Service, Superior National Forest, Cook, Minn.
Report edited and designed by:
Paul Keller, Technical Writer-Editor, Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center

5 thoughts on “How Fuel Treatments Saved Homes from the 2011 Wallow Fire Report”

  1. This picture tells me a lot about the future of this area. We’ve seen similar scenarios, where a town narrowly avoids incineration, only to watch as their town’s trees turn brown, one by one, day by day. There will be HUGE patches of perfect bark beetle brood trees within the interior of the fire. The trees in the treated zone will be stressed, due to cambium scorch, and be overwhelmed by the clouds of flying beetles. The beetles surely won’t stop at the firelines, though. As you can see in the picture, the density of the trees in town is far, far beyond what is “natural”. Re-burn will be an issue later, if not addressed in fuels treatments now. What is better? A few stumps, here and there, or a LOT of snags, EVERYWHERE?!?!

    This disaster is far from over, folks. I certainly wouldn’t be claiming “mission accomplished”, just yet!

  2. I have no problem with well-designed efforts to treat small fuels in the immediate vicinity of at-risk homes and structures, but it’s important to critically evaluate the evidence, e.g., know when you are looking at anecdotes versus controlled studies.

    The changed fire behavior in the picture looks like it could have to do with slope. It could also have to do with time of day or wind or a variety of factors. And of course it could have to do with a fuel treatment that got lucky because it was perfectly timed (after the activity fuels were treated and before the forest had regrown) and perfectly aligned with the type of fire and weather that happened that day.

    • “Controlled studies” say that forests in that area are overstocked by at least an order of magnitude. The photos show, without a doubt, that there are too many trees in several size classes for the available amount of annual rainfall and soil moistures. Looking at the picture, who decided that the upper zone wasn’t worth saving? Who decided that those trees weren’t important or desirable? Finally, who decided that the American public wanted a snag patch there? And there, and there, and there and there?!?

  3. TreeC123, from what I can tell the verdict is in, management actions that include thinning/burning modt often clearly decrease the intensity and severity of wildfires here in the southwestern pine and dry mixed conifer forest types:

    Cram, D.; Baker, T; Boren J. 2006. Wildland fire effects in silviculturally treated vs. untreated stands of New Mexico and Arizona. Research Paper RMRS-RP-55. Fort Collins. CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 28 p.

    Griffis, Kerry L.; Crawford, Julie A.; Wagner, Michael R.; Moir, W.H. 2001. Understory response to management treatments in northern Arizona ponderosa pine forests. Forest Ecology and Management 146(2001) 239-245.

    Omi, Philip N. and Erik J. Martinson. 2002. Final report: Effect of Fuel Treatment on Wildfire Severity. Western Forest Fire Research Center, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO.

    Pollet, Jolie; and Omi, Philip N. 2002. Effect of thinning and prescribed burning on crown fire severity in ponderosa pine forests. International Journal of Wildland Fire (11): 1-10.

    Strom, Barbara A.; and Peter Z. Fulè. 2007. Pre-wildfire fuel treatments affect long-term ponderosa pine forest dynamics. International Journal of Wildland Fire: 16, 128-138.

    Fulé, Peter Z.; McHugh, Charles; Heinlen, Thomas A.; Covington, Wallace W. 2001. Potential fire behavior is reduced following forest restoration treatments. In: USDA Forest Service Proceedings RMRS-P-22. Ogeden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

    Bradley, Tim; Gibson, Jennifer; And windy Bunn. 2006. Fire Severity and Intensity During Spring Burning in Natural and Masticated Mixed Shrub Woodland. Conference Proceedings. 28-30 March 2006; Portland, OR. Proceedings RMRS-P-41. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 809 p.

    Agee, J.K. 1996. The influence of forest structure on fire behavior. In: Proceedings, 17th Annual Forest Vegetation Management Conference. Redding, CA. January 16-18, 1996: 52-68.

    Kuenzi, Amanda M.; Fulé, Peter Z.; Sieg, Carolyn Hull. 2008. Effects of Fire Severity and Pre-fire Stand Treatment on Plan Community Recovery after a Large Wildfire. Forest Ecology and Management. 225 (2008): 855-865.

    Kulakowski, Dominik; and Veblen, Thomas. T. 2007. Effect of Prior Disturbances on the Extent and Severity of Wildfire in Colorado Subalpine Forests. Ecology, 88(3): 759-769 pp.

    Huggett Jr., Robert J.; Abt, Karen L.; Sheppard, Wayne. 2008. Efficacy of Mechanical Fuel Treatments for Reducing Wildfire Hazard. Forest Policy and Economics, 10: 408-414 pp.

    Lezberg, Ann L.; Battaglia, Michael A.; Sheppard, Wayne D.; Schoettle, Anna W. 2008. Decades-old silvicultural treatments influence surface wildfire severity and post-fire nitrogen availability in a ponderosa pine forest. Forest
    Ecology and Management, 255: 49-61 pp.

    Murphy, Kathy; Rich, Tim; Sexton, Tim. 2007. An Assessment of Fuel Treatment Effects on Fire Behavior, Suppression Effectiveness, and Structure Ignition on the Angora Fire. United States. Department of Agriculture. R5-TP-025. 32 pp.

    Kane, Jeffrey M.; Varner, J. M; Knapp, Eric E.; Powers, Robert F. 2010. Understory vegetation response to mechanical mastication and other fuels treatments in a ponderosa pine forest. Applied Vegetation Science: Vol. 13: 207–220 pp.

    Ager, Alan A.; Vaillant, Nicole M.; Finney, Mark A. 2010. A comparison of landscape fuel treatment strategies to mitigate wildfire risk in the urban interface and preserve old forest structure. Forest Ecology and Mgmt. Vol. 259: 1556-1570 pp.

    Wimberly, M. C., M. A. Cochrane, A. D. Baer, and K. Pabst. 2009. Assessing fuel treatment effectiveness using satellite imagery and spatial statistics. Ecological Applications 19:1377–1384.

  4. Fotoware, who decides is that this work is very expensive and every effort does all it can in the area where the greatest gain can be achieved with limited resources. Nice job on this one. Sure, every square foot of woodlands in the west needs thinning, but one step at a time.


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