Wildfire Wildfires can be devastating when burning out of control in areas loaded with heavy fuels. As a result of fire exclusion, timber harvesting and livestock grazing, millions of acres of forestlands contain a high accumulation of flammable fuels compared to the conditions prior to the 20th century. Today 190 million acres of public range and forest lands are in an increased risk of catastrophic wildfires. Forest and rangelands with high stem (woody plant) density and fuel loads, combined with drought and extreme fire weather conditions have led to severe and large wildfires (such as those in 2000, 2002 and again in 2003) that have put many important values at risk.
Although homes in the path of wildfires are the most immediate recognized value, wildfires also put numerous other human and ecological values at risk. Other values at risk include human life, power grids, drinking water supplies, critical habitat, soil productivity and air quality. One of the highest priorities for BLM is to reduce or rearrange hazardous fuel loads inside the wildland urban interface (WUI), where homes are built up against native forest and rangelands.
The development and implementation of the National Fire Plan and 10 year cohesive strategy followed the large wildfires of 2000. These documents directed the Interior and Agriculture Departments to:
Improve prevention and suppression capabilities
Reduce hazardous fuels
Restore fire adapted ecosystems
Promote community assistance
When prescribed fire and other hand/mechanical fuel treatment methods such as chopping, mowing, and thinning are used to reduce fuels under a set of specific environmental conditions, benefits can be outstanding. Treatment areas are evaluated and prioritized based on their values at risk, fuel loading, fire regime condition class, and the ability to achieve multiple objectives for both human and natural resource values.
Prescribed burning allows fire to mimic its natural role in the environment under a more controllable setting. The BLM uses prescribed fire to:
Reduce hazardous fuels, both inside and outside of the WUI
Improve watershed/rangeland health
Improve habitat and forage condition for wildlife and livestock
Manage vegetation and prepare sites for planting and seeding
Control insects and disease
Sustain fire dependent species
Examples of Prescribed fire projects in the Cody Field Office.
Mechanical Treatments (chopping, thinning, mowing & mulching)
Mechanical fuel reduction treatment methods have the ability to more precisely target a specific stand or species than does prescribed fire. Using hand saws or machinery allows the selection of individual trees or shrubs for removal or retention. Due to the controllability, mechanical treatments may be planned for a specific goal to rearrange the fuels or the fuel continuity and/or to reduce ladder fuels. Although more expensive, these treatments are well to areas of high value near homes and communities where the use of prescribed fire creates a high risk factor.
In the Cody Field Office mechanical mowing of Wyoming sagebrush (pictured above) has proven very successful as a habitat improvement tool in areas designated as crucial habitat for wintering antelope and sage grouse. Specific areas targeted with a low percent treatment objective can easily be achieved when compared to prescribed fire. These treatments can be designed and tailored as both habitat improvement projects as well as fuel breaks.
BLM Fire Resource Links