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Targeted grazing and mechanical thinning enhance forest stand resilience under a narrow range of wildfire scenarios


Donovan, Victoria et al. (2022), Targeted grazing and mechanical thinning enhance forest stand resilience under a narrow range of wildfire scenarios, Dryad, Dataset,


Increasing wildfire activity has spurred ecological resilience-based management that aims to reduce the vulnerability of forest stands to wildfire by reducing the probability of crown fire. Targeted grazing is increasingly being used to build forest resilience to wildfire, either on its own or in combination with treatments like mechanical thinning; however, it is unclear how effective this method is at altering the probability of crown fire in forest stands. We use crown fire simulation models to quantify to what extent targeted grazing, mechanical thinning targeting the vertical fuel stratum, and a combination of both treatments alter eastern ponderosa pine savanna stand resilience to wildfire by modelling their relative impacts on fuel stratum gap and subsequent crown fire occurrence under six different wildfire risk scenarios generated by altering wind and fuel moisture conditions. We then model changes in the probability of crown fire occurrence resulting from treatments across 75 field-sampled sites in the Pine Ridge region of Nebraska relative to predicted crown fire occurrence when sites are left untreated. We find that mechanical (vertical) thinning has the potential to alter the probability of crown fire in ponderosa pine stands to a much greater extent than targeted grazing. Combining both approaches had a slightly higher probability of reducing crown fire risk across the greatest range of wildfire risk scenarios. Across 75 sample sites, targeted grazing was only predicted to prevented crown fire occurrence at 2 sites expected to experience crown fire under observed stand conditions across all six of our wildfire risk scenarios. In contrast, targeted grazing combined with mechanical thinning was predicted to prevent crown fire at approximately half of the sites expected to experience crown fire under observed conditions under mild and moderate wildfire risk scenarios. Thus, targeted grazing should be combined with mechanical thinning to best enhance forest resilience to wildfire. No combination of targeted grazing or mechanical thinning was able to alter the probability of crown fire under wildfire risk scenarios most conducive wildfire, confirming that relying solely on vertical thinning and targeted grazing is unlikely to sufficiently enhance resilience of forest stands to future wildfire conditions.


Crown fire probabilities for each scenario were calculated using Crown Fire Initiation Software (CFIS). Fuel Calculator Inputs used to generate fuel structural characteristics are included in the tab "Site_FuelCalculator_Inputs". This data was collected by Renewable Resource Solutions, LLC (2018). A full report on data collection for Renewable Resource Solutions is available upon request from the Nebraska Forest Service, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, NE.


The McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program, Award: NEB-38-107

University of Nebraska-Lincoln