Does Increased Forest Protection Correspond to Higher Fire Severity in Frequent-Fire Forests of the Western United States?. Bradley, C. M.; Hanson, C. T.; and DellaSala, D. A. 7(10):e01492+.
Does Increased Forest Protection Correspond to Higher Fire Severity in Frequent-Fire Forests of the Western United States? [link]Paper  doi  abstract   bibtex   
There is a widespread view among land managers and others that the protected status of many forestlands in the western United States corresponds with higher fire severity levels due to historical restrictions on logging that contribute to greater amounts of biomass and fuel loading in less intensively managed areas, particularly after decades of fire suppression. This view has led to recent proposals – both administrative and legislative – to reduce or eliminate forest protections and increase some forms of logging based on the belief that restrictions on active management have increased fire severity. We investigated the relationship between protected status and fire severity using the Random Forests algorithm applied to 1500 fires affecting 9.5 million hectares between 1984 and 2014 in pine (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus jeffreyi) and mixed-conifer forests of western United States, accounting for key topographic and climate variables. We found forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel loading. Our results suggest a need to reconsider current overly simplistic assumptions about the relationship between forest protection and fire severity in fire management and policy. [Excerpt: Conclusions] In general, our findings – that forests with the highest levels of protection from logging tend to burn least severely – suggest a need for managers and policymakers to rethink current forest and fire management direction, particularly proposals that seek to weaken forest protections or suspend environmental laws ostensibly to facilitate a more extensive and industrial forest-fire management regime. Such approaches would likely achieve the opposite of their intended consequences and would degrade complex early seral forests (DellaSala et al. 2015). We suggest that the results of our study counsel in favor of increased protection for federal forestlands without the concern that this may lead to more severe fires. [] Allowing wildfires to burn under safe conditions is an effective restoration tool for achieving landscape heterogeneity and biodiversity conservation objectives in regions where high levels of biodiversity are associated with mixed-intensity fires (i.e., ” pyrodiversity begets biodiversity,” see DellaSala and Hanson 2015b). Managers concerned about fires can close and decommission roads that contribute to human-caused fire ignitions and treat fire-prone tree plantations where fires have been shown to burn uncharacteristically severe (Odion et al. 2004). Prioritizing fuel treatments to flammable vegetation adjacent to homes along with specific measures that reduce fire risks to home structures are precautionary steps for allowing more fires to proceed safely in the backcountry (Moritz 2014, DellaSala et al. 2015, Moritz and Knowles 2016). [] Managing for wildfire benefits as we suggest is also consistent with recent national forest policies such as 2012 National Forest Management Act planning rule that emphasizes maintaining and restoring ecological integrity across the national forest system and because complex early forests can only be produced by natural disturbance events not mimicked by mechanical fuel reduction or clear-cut logging (Swanson et al. 2011, DellaSala et al. 2014). Thus, managers wishing to maintain biodiversity in fire-adapted forests should appropriately weigh the benefits of wildfires against the ecological costs of mechanical fuel reduction and fire suppression (Ingalsbee and Raja 2015) and should consider expansion of protected forest areas as a means of maintaining natural ecosystem processes like wildland fire. [] [...]
@article{bradleyDoesIncreasedForest2016,
  title = {Does Increased Forest Protection Correspond to Higher Fire Severity in Frequent-Fire Forests of the Western {{United States}}?},
  author = {Bradley, Curtis M. and Hanson, Chad T. and DellaSala, Dominick A.},
  date = {2016-10},
  journaltitle = {Ecosphere},
  volume = {7},
  pages = {e01492+},
  issn = {2150-8925},
  doi = {10.1002/ecs2.1492},
  url = {http://mfkp.org/INRMM/article/14178845},
  abstract = {There is a widespread view among land managers and others that the protected status of many forestlands in the western United States corresponds with higher fire severity levels due to historical restrictions on logging that contribute to greater amounts of biomass and fuel loading in less intensively managed areas, particularly after decades of fire suppression. This view has led to recent proposals -- both administrative and legislative -- to reduce or eliminate forest protections and increase some forms of logging based on the belief that restrictions on active management have increased fire severity. We investigated the relationship between protected status and fire severity using the Random Forests algorithm applied to 1500 fires affecting 9.5 million hectares between 1984 and 2014 in pine (Pinus ponderosa, Pinus jeffreyi) and mixed-conifer forests of western United States, accounting for key topographic and climate variables. We found forests with higher levels of protection had lower severity values even though they are generally identified as having the highest overall levels of biomass and fuel loading. Our results suggest a need to reconsider current overly simplistic assumptions about the relationship between forest protection and fire severity in fire management and policy.

[Excerpt: Conclusions]

In general, our findings -- that forests with the highest levels of protection from logging tend to burn least severely -- suggest a need for managers and policymakers to rethink current forest and fire management direction, particularly proposals that seek to weaken forest protections or suspend environmental laws ostensibly to facilitate a more extensive and industrial forest-fire management regime. Such approaches would likely achieve the opposite of their intended consequences and would degrade complex early seral forests (DellaSala et al. 2015). We suggest that the results of our study counsel in favor of increased protection for federal forestlands without the concern that this may lead to more severe fires.

[] Allowing wildfires to burn under safe conditions is an effective restoration tool for achieving landscape heterogeneity and biodiversity conservation objectives in regions where high levels of biodiversity are associated with mixed-intensity fires (i.e., ” pyrodiversity begets biodiversity,” see DellaSala and Hanson 2015b). Managers concerned about fires can close and decommission roads that contribute to human-caused fire ignitions and treat fire-prone tree plantations where fires have been shown to burn uncharacteristically severe (Odion et al. 2004). Prioritizing fuel treatments to flammable vegetation adjacent to homes along with specific measures that reduce fire risks to home structures are precautionary steps for allowing more fires to proceed safely in the backcountry (Moritz 2014, DellaSala et al. 2015, Moritz and Knowles 2016).

[] Managing for wildfire benefits as we suggest is also consistent with recent national forest policies such as 2012 National Forest Management Act planning rule that emphasizes maintaining and restoring ecological integrity across the national forest system and because complex early forests can only be produced by natural disturbance events not mimicked by mechanical fuel reduction or clear-cut logging (Swanson et al. 2011, DellaSala et al. 2014). Thus, managers wishing to maintain biodiversity in fire-adapted forests should appropriately weigh the benefits of wildfires against the ecological costs of mechanical fuel reduction and fire suppression (Ingalsbee and Raja 2015) and should consider expansion of protected forest areas as a means of maintaining natural ecosystem processes like wildland fire.

[] [...]},
  keywords = {*imported-from-citeulike-INRMM,~INRMM-MiD:c-14178845,~to-add-doi-URL,biodiversity,fire-fuel,fire-severity,forest-fires,forest-management,forest-resources,protected-areas,protection,wildfires},
  number = {10}
}
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