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Effectiveness of fuel treatments at the landscape scale: State of understanding and key research gaps

September, 2019

Picture of a partially clear-cut forest hillside with some beetle killed areas.
Plantations and their influence on Wildfire at the landscape.

There is widespread interest in understanding the effectiveness of fuel treatments in mitigating the trajectory of wildfire suppression costs and how their effectiveness and longevity can be extended over large areas and landscapes. To date, there have been several studies that used a modeling approach to evaluate fuel treatment effectiveness at the landscape scale. However, empirical studies at this scale are rare because landscape-scale fuel treatment strategies have not been fully implemented or wildfires have not burned through implemented landscape fuel treatments. A thorough evaluation of what is currently available in the literature and lessons learned from forest and rangeland managers has not yet been conducted.

We propose to

  1. Assess the scientific literature, (including refereed and peer-reviewed papers, reports, white papers, and proceedings) using a systematic review and synthesis. This work will summarize and evaluate the state of knowledge regarding fuel treatments conducted at the landscape scale (greater than 10,000 acres); practices regarding fuel treatment design and implementation, and the availability and robustness of effectiveness metrics that inform why and what makes fuel treatments effective.
  2. Interview managers involved in fuel treatment planning, implementation and interweave the literature and practices to provide insights that could inform fuel treatment prioritization, planning, management, or policies, specifically related to landscape scale fuel treatments.
  3. Applying the outcomes learned from the literature review and interviews, identify key science gaps and research needs.

Key Findings

How do landscape fuel treatments:

  • Mitigate adverse effects of wildfire
  • Facilitate the application of prescribed fires
  • Inform manager and policy-maker decisions on how to design, deploy, prioritize, and measure effectiveness of fuel treatments at the landscape scale.


From the literature synthesis and manager interviews, the team will develop a research agenda/strategy for fuel treatment effectiveness. The strategy will include identification of primary knowledge gaps, a research strategy to overcome these shortcomings, and recommendations for moving fuel treatment planning to application

Project Contact: 

Principal Investigators:
J. Morgan Varner - PNW
Joseph 0’Brien - SRS
Shawn McKenny - RMRS, Fire Effects Information System

Research Staff:
Funding Contributors:
Joint Fire Sciences Program