Projects - Carol Miller



Can Wildland Fire Use (WFU) Restore Historical Fire Regimes In Wilderness And Other Unroaded Lands?

Carol Miller and Brett Davis - Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute

unroaded wilderness


Current Federal Wildland Fire Policy encourages wildland fire use (WFU) for restoring natural fire dynamics and reducing hazardous wildland fuels. Unroaded areas provide unique opportunities for applying wildland fire use (WFU) as a fuels management strategy and as a method for restoring the natural process of fire. In many wilderness and other unroaded areas, however, current fuel conditions may preclude the use of wildland fire because of excessive risks to natural resource values within the wilderness or to social values in the adjacent wildland urban interface (WUI). In some areas, especially small wilderness areas with extensive WUI areas, WFU may never be feasible. Even in larger unroaded areas, there will always be an argument to suppress some natural ignitions because of these risks. Finally, ignitions outside of these areas that otherwise would immigrate into wilderness are usually suppressed, further limiting the amount of natural fire that can occur. Before investing limited time and resources in developing and implementing a fire management plan, wildland fire and fuels managers need information and tools to help them evaluate the feasibility of WFU as a fuel reduction strategy and as a method for the restoration of fire.


Very Hot Wildland Fire

This project developed an approach to assess the feasibility and effectiveness of wildland fire use (WFU) as a strategy for restoring the process of fire and managing fuels in wilderness and other unroaded lands. The information we developed will help managers evaluate management objectives.

We developed methods for evaluating effects that fire suppression on one side of an administrative boundary might have on the other side of that boundary. We used these methods to evaluate how suppression of lightning-caused ignitions that occur outside WFU zones might affect our ability to achieve the restoration of fire inside the WFU zones. Specifically, we examined how eliminating the importation of fires that start on adjacent lands affects the predicted rate of burning for the WFU zone. For 5 wilderness areas and national parks, we assessed the availability of natural ignitions and determined the dergree to which suppression of natural ignitions outside WFU zones might hinder objectives to manage natural fire regimes.

A secondary objective was to evaluate the risks and opportunities from WFU fires. We assessed the risk and opportunity that lightning ignitions from the WFU zone might pose to different values of interest in the study area. We evaluated risks to areas such as the WUI or and ecologically sensitive areas, and we evaluated expected benefits to areas that are inhabited by fire-dependent species. This information can help with prevention planning, prioritizing fuel treatments, and anticipating where to expect the greatest conflicts with other management objectives when implementing a WFU program.

Furthermore, we developed and demonstrated our approach using multiple study areas that have very different precipitation regimes. As such, the approach we developed is a robust one that can integrate information on summer precipitation patterns as well as patterns of season length over elevation.

To View Further information on this project, please refer to:  PROJECT DETAILS

Joint Fire Science Program

This project is supported by the Joint Fire Science Program.

Leopold Institute operates under an agreement with the following agencies:    Us Forest ServiceBureau of Land ManagementUnited States Geological SurveyNational Park ServiceUS Fish and Wildlife Service

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