Federal policies direct public-land managers to reduce wildfire risks for urban areas close to wildlands, while broader agency goals call for landscape restoration to create fire-resilient forests. This study used wildfires simulation modeling to examine the tradeoffs between focusing fuel reduction efforts on a wildland-urban interface (WUI) in Oregon’s Blue Mountains versus restoration of overly dense stands in the nearby Wallowa-Whitman National Forest.
Alan Ager and Nicole Vaillant, researchers with the Pacific Northwest Research Station, simulated fire effects for thousands of random ignitions under various levels of fuel-treatment intensity across the landscape. The results indicated that, given a severe fire, treatment treating a relatively small percentage of the landscape outside the WUI, 3 to 6 miles away, could substantially diminish the expected loss of large, fire-resilient trees that are critical to forest restoration. On the other hand, treating stands near structures in the WUI lowered wildfire risk there, but also resulted in greater expected losses of big trees in the abutting forest. The findings suggest that fuel treatment strategies can serve the goals of both community fire protection and forest restoration if those plans account for broad-scale landscape features, weather conditions and other factors affecting fire impacts, in spatial relationship to human property and ecologically valuable forestland.
Parks, Noreen. 2011. Seeking common ground: protecting homes from wildfires while making forests more resilient to fire. Science Findings 134. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 6 p.