October 25, 2023

The economic reality of the forest and fuel management deficit on a fire prone western US national forest

Authors: P. Belavenutti, W. Chung and A. A. Ager

Year: 2021

Journal: Journal of Environmental Management

Abstract: Recent extreme wildfire seasons in the United States (US) have rekindled policy debates about the underlying drivers and potential role forest management can play in reducing fuels and future wildfire. Most US western national forests face a substantial backlog of treatments and manifold management issues related to wildfire, forest health, and wildfire protection and constitute the major part of the wildfire problem. However, the precise schedule and detailed assessments that map the type and amount of treatments needed, as well as the associated cost are rarely assessed. We simulated restoration trajectories on the US fire prone Umatilla National Forest that faces complex management challenges related to wildfire and forest resiliency. The treatments were targeted to specific ecological conditions based on a decision tree developed in consultation with specialists. Planning areas were then prioritized based on fire protection of the wildland-urban interface (WUI), forest products, and stand resiliency. The results revealed a backlog of 211,893 ha, that when treated would generate $320 million in revenue from forest products, and cover 80% of the forest. The treatment area estimate was more than double prior estimates based on ecological departure from historic condition. Financial sensitivity analysis showed that high priority fuel treatments were revenue positive on 22% of the planning areas. The study established a restoration blueprint in terms of amount, location, and treatment type to support funding requests to the agency and schedule internal and external capacity to complete the work. The work also contributes to ongoing collaborative restoration planning to help stakeholders understand the opportunity cost of specific restoration objectives. The case study and framework can be widely extrapolated to the national forests in the western US to improve financial evaluation of forest and fuel management and estimate future management inputs. This work represents a rare instance of a bottom-up spatially explicit assessment of a restoration backlog, and prioritization of planning areas to reduce that backlog on a US national forest.

Link: https://www.fs.usda.gov/treesearch/pubs/63130




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