The current conditions of many seasonally dry forests in the western and southern United States, especially those that once experienced low- to moderate-intensity fire regimes, leave them uncharacteristically susceptible to high-severity wildfire. Both prescribed fire and its mechanical surrogates are generally successful in meeting short-term fuel-reduction objectives such that treated stands are more resilient to high-intensity wildfire. Most available evidence suggests that these objectives are typically accomplished with few unintended consequences, since most ecosystem components (vegetation, soils, wildlife, bark beetles, carbon sequestration) exhibit very subtle effects or no measurable effects at all. Although mechanical treatments do not serve as complete surrogates for fire, their application can help mitigate costs and liability in some areas. Desired treatment effects on fire hazards are transient, which indicates that after fuel-reduction management starts, managers need to be persistent with repeated treatment, especially in the faster-growing forests in the southern United States.
Authors' response to comments and criticism received following this publication:
Stephens, Scott L.; McIver, James D.; Boerner, Ralph E.J.; Fettig, Christopher J.; Fontaine, Joseph B.; Hartsough, Bruce R.; Kennedy, Patricia L.; Schwilk, Dylan W. 2012. Effects of forest fuel-reduction treatments in the United States. Bioscience 62:549-560.