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Using wildfire as a management strategy to restore resiliency to ponderosa pine forests in the southwestern United States


Andrea E. Thode



Publication type:

Scientific Journal (JRNL)

Primary Station(s):

Rocky Mountain Research Station


Ecosphere. 13: e4040.


The long-term outcome from accelerated forest restoration using resource objective wildfire in combination with fuel management on fire-excluded landscapes is not well studied. We used simulation modeling to examine long-term trade-offs and synergies of alternative land management strategies by combining two wildfire management alternatives with three levels of contemporary forest restoration treatments on a 778,000-ha landscape over 56 years. We found that managing wildfires for resource objectives diminished the likelihood of irregular fire events over time by making wildfire activity more predictable. Overall, adding resource objective wildfire reduced the proportion of high-severity fire in relation to total area burned, but increased total area burned and the area of high-severity fire. We also found resource objective wildfire changed the distribution of high-severity burn patches by increasing their total number and range, their likelihood of containing disjunct core areas, and their edge complexity. The results suggested that alongside the current pace of active forest management, expanding the fire footprint to achieve low-cost restoration carries the potential for increased high-severity fire and associated impacts to ecological values including old forest structure and wildlife habitat. Concurrently, adding resource objective wildfire expanded the footprint of conventional restoration treatments by fivefold, and restoration objectives were achieved in 25 years when managing resource objective wildfires alongside restoration treatments five times the current pace. This study demonstrates the first fire suppression model to replicate local decision making by fire managers during simulated fire events to manage risk by considering both fire proximity to values at risk, and daily weather conditions. The study paves the way for further investigations of the synergies between wildfires and conventional forest restoration to improve resiliency in fire-excluded pine forests.


Young, Jesse D.; Ager, Alan A.; Thode, Andrea E. 2022. Using wildfire as a management strategy to restore resiliency to ponderosa pine forests in the southwestern United States. Ecosphere. 13: e4040.


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