New study shows advantages of prescribed fire and mechanical thinning

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A recent paper co-authored by USDA Forest Service Pacific Southwest Research Station researcher Dr. Chris Fettig and scientists from six universities in the U.S. and Australia shows that fuels treatments can be implemented with few unintended consequences. The scientists analyzed a broad spectrum of ecological markers, detailing the effects of fuel-reduction treatments on vegetation, soils, wildlife, bark beetles and carbon sequestration, while relying heavily on data from the U.S. Fire and Fire Surrogates Study, in addition to other research.

Prescribed fire is a useful alternative to wildfire because it is thought to best emulate the natural process it is designed to replace. However, the use of prescribed fire has been constrained by social concerns in many locations, particularly in the western U.S. As a result, fuel reduction “surrogates,” such as forest thinning and mastication, have become attractive, especially if forest managers can use such treatments to accomplish similar stand structure goals as those obtained by prescribed fire.