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Establish fuelbreaks to slow the spread of catastrophic fire

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Approach

EASTERN:
Projected increases in fire occurrence as a result of climate change are expected to increase demand on fire-fighting resources and may force prioritization of fire suppression efforts to targeted areas (Millar et al. 2007, Spittlehouse and Stewart 2003). Managers may seek to reduce the spread or intensity of fire by using a fuelbreak, which is a physical barrier such as a road, bulldozer line, or water body. Establishing fuelbreaks can be complementary with actions to reduce the fuel load of the forest itself (Agee et al. 2000). Fuelbreaks can be created to lessen fire spread and intensity in specific areas, such as the wildland-urban interface, but also have the potential to increase fragmentation. (1)

WESTERN:
Continued escalations in fire occurrence will increase demand on fire-fighting resources and may force prioritization of fire suppression efforts to targeted areas (Westerling 2016, Halofsky et al. 2020). Managers may seek to reduce the spread or intensity of fire by using a (1) non-vegetated fuelbreak, which is a physical barrier such as a road, bulldozer line, water body; or (2) vegetated fuelbreak, where surface, ladder, and canopy fuel loads have been heavily reduced, resulting in minimal fuel continuity. Establishing fuelbreaks can be complementary with actions to reduce the fuel load of the vegetation across the forest (Approach 3.1; Agee et al. 2000). Fuelbreaks can lessen fire spread and intensity in specific areas of ecological interest or high-risk areas such as the wildland-urban interface. They can also enhance the opportunity for fast, effective, and safe tactical response during wildfire suppression operations. However, fuelbreaks also have the potential for greater habitat fragmentation and increased invasive species spread. Thoughtful site selection and careful methods for creating fuelbreaks (e.g., take advantage of natural fuelbreaks as much as possible) will help minimize negative impacts of fuelbreaks. (2)

Tactics

  • Using prescribed fire or mechanical thinning to lower the volume of dense vegetation and reduce flammability within a buffer zone of appropriate size for the landscape (1, 2).
  • Creating fire lines (i.e., areas where all vegetation is removed down to mineral soil) between a flammable stand and the wildland-urban interface or a fire-intolerant stand (1).
  • Establishing fuelbreaks along roads, power lines, and other existing features in order to reduce the spread of wildfire while minimizing additional fragmentation (1, 2).
  • Replacing vegetation with nonflammable materials (e.g., replacing vegetation with local rocks) around high-priority areas (1, 2).
  • Removing edge vegetation and lower branches of perimeter trees of flammable stands (e.g., pine islands) to arrest the path of fire from the ground surface to the tree crown (1).
  • Utilizing natural fuelbreaks across the landscape, such as exposed rock outcrops and sparsely vegetation ridgetops, when considering the strategic management of future wildfires (e.g., potential operational delineations) (2).
  • Reducing canopy bulk density immediately adjacent to human communities (i.e., wildland-urban interface) to reduce the probability of crown fire spread. Focus more on horizontal heterogeneity across the matrix of the forest to create natural openings...(2)
  • Creating fuelbreaks around fire-sensitive areas of high natural resource value, such as specific Experimental Forests, Research Natural Areas, Botanical Areas, where altered fire regimes would negatively impact target species of the protected area...(2)

Strategy Text

Climate change is projected to increase the potential for severe disturbance events, such as wildfire, extreme wind, and ice storms (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [IPCC] 2012, Moritz et al. 2012, Uriarte and Papaik 2007). These disturbances have the ability to alter community composition and structure over large landscapes. Disturbances can interact with other stressors (Papaik and Canham 2006). For example, extreme wind events can cause tree damage and mortality, which increase the risk of pest outbreaks or wildfire (Gandhi et al. 2007, Woodall and Nagel 2007). Even as trends continue to emerge, management will need to adjust appropriately to the changes in natural disturbance dynamics (Heller and Zavaleta 2009).

Citation

1. Swanston, C.W.; Janowiak, M.K.; Brandt, L.A.; Butler, P.R.; Handler, S.D.; Shannon, P.D.; Derby Lewis, A.; Hall, K.; Fahey, R.T.; Scott, L.; Kerber, A.; Miesbauer, J.W.; Darling, L.; 2016. Forest Adaptation Resources: climate change tools and approaches for land managers, 2nd ed. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northern Research Station. 161 p. http://dx.doi.org/10.2737/NRS-GTR-87-2
2. Swanston, C.W.; Brandt, L.A.; Butler-Leopold, P.R.; Hall, K.R.; Handler, S.D.; Janowiak, M.K.; Merriam, K.; Meyer,
M.; Molinari, N.; Schmitt, K.M.; Shannon, P.D.; Smith, J.B.; Wuenschel, A.; Ostoja, S.M 2020. Adaptation Strategies
and Approaches for California Forest Ecosystems. USDA California Climate Hub Technical Report CACH-2020-1.
Davis, CA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Climate Hubs. 65 p.
https://www.fs.usda.gov/ccrc/approach/establish-fuelbreaks-slow-spread-catastrophic-fire