Modeling the risk reduction benefit of forest management

Folks, this USFS paper may be of interest: “Modeling the risk reduction benefit of forest management using a case study in the Lake Tahoe Basin.”

Authors: Evans, Samuel G.; Holland, Tim G.; Long, Jonathan W.; Maxwell, Charles; Scheller, Robert M.; Patrick, Evan; Potts, Matthew D.

Date: 2022

Source Ecology and Society. 27(2):18

Abstract: Across the United States, wildfire severity and frequency are increasing, placing many properties at risk of harm or destruction. We quantify and compare how different forest management strategies designed to increase forest resilience and health reduce the number of properties at risk from wildfire, focusing on the Lake Tahoe Basin of California and Nevada. We combine landscape change simulations (including climate change, wildfire, and management effects) with scenarios of current and plausible fuel treatment activities and parcel-scale fire risk analysis. Results suggest that more aggressive fuel treatment activities that treat more area on the landscape, whether through mechanical and hand thinning or prescribed fire, dramatically lower the fire probability in the region and lead to a corresponding lower risk of property loss. We estimate that relative to recent practices of focusing management in the wildland–urban interface, more active forest management can reduce property loss risk by 45%–76%, or approximately 2600–4900 properties. The majority of this risk reduction is for single family residences, which constitute most structures in the region. Further, we find that the highest risk reduction is obtained through strategies that treat a substantially greater area than is currently treated in the region and allows for selective wildfires to burn for resource objectives outside of the wildland–urban interface. These results highlight the importance of more active forest management as an effective tool in reducing the wildfire risk to capital assets in the region.

4 thoughts on “Modeling the risk reduction benefit of forest management”

  1. A HUGE factor in Lake Tahoe forests is the build-up of fuels on the forest floor. Multiple droughts have led to big die-offs from bark beetles. The entire Lake Tahoe Basin was impacted, and giant chunks of it did not see any salvage logging. The mixed conifer zones were hit the hardest, but the pine zones had their share of mortality, too.

    Thinning projects probably won’t address the dead fuels situation, and lightning happens a lot there. I was a Fire Lookout, high above the north shore. ‘Sleepers’ are very common there, as well. Prescribed fire has significant pushback from residents, who don’t like it when an inversion happens, at the lake. People even proposed summertime burns, “out of prescription”, to mitigate the smoke issues.

  2. I’m haven’t studied this, but I noticed a couple of things. I don’t think a study area like Lake Tahoe that has “has a very large area characterized as wildland–urban interface” is necessarily predictive of most national forest areas or therefore useful for discussing how much active management should occur outside of the WUI. Also the conclusion about the “importance of more active forest management” obscures the fact that the results were mostly the result of greater use of fire, which we have seen in other cases provides greater benefits than mechanical treatments (which is what most people probably think of as “active forest management”).

    • People are also VERY sensitive about all sources of erosion, including mechanized thinning. There was a long and bitter building moratorium in the 80s, and that mindset still persists, today. The decomposed granite soils are erodible and subject to drought and wildfire issues. The true fir stands are past overstocked, at least on Federal lands. The droughts, bark beetles and wildfires have turned preservationists into conservationists.

      Without massive funding of non-commercial tasks, I question whether we can act fast enough to change the coming wildfires around the lake.

  3. The Caldor Fire blasted through the Sierra-At-Tahoe ski area, keeping it closed for all of last winter. Here’s a video of what it is looking like, today, after all the salvage logging. It will certainly be a ‘different’ experience for skiers this year, without all those thick trees in the way *smirk*

    (No, we did not salvage timber at the ski area, during the 1988-1993 drought years. I inspected the helicopter salvage logging adjacent, to the east, in 1991.)


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