Hazardous Fuel Reduction

Fuel reduction projects and vegetation treatments have been proven as a means of mitigating wildfire hazards, to lessen catastrophic fire and its threat to public and firefighter safety, and damage to property. The objective is to remove enough fuel so that when a wildfire burns, it is less severe and can be more easily suppressed.

When fuels accumulate, they allow fires to burn hotter, faster and with higher flame lengths. When fire encounters areas of continuous brush or small trees it can burn these “ladder fuels” and may quickly move from a ground fire into a crown fire.

Hazardous fuel reduction generally requires the reduction of surface and ladder fuels. It may also require thinning out dense tree stands, preserving mature sized trees in some instances. It can be accomplished using fire, biological methods, and mechanical treatments to remove or modify fuels in forested areas. Thinning trees, removing underbrush, and limbing trees are done using hand crews or machines. Cut material is ground into chips or piled and burned during the winter. Biological methods include grazing and are usually not used in national parks.

landscape of deep woods

Before and after hazard fuels reduction treatment at Mount Rushmore National Memorial. The project involved mechanically removing most Ponderosa pine trees 5-inches in diameter and smaller with chainsaws.

Prescribed Fire

Fire can be used to meet management goals, either by setting prescribed fires or using natural lightning ignitions. Before fire can be utilized, each park must have an approved fire management plan and the fire must meet established criteria. Using fire to reduce high fuel hazards is prohibited in many areas. In these instances treatments, generally mechanical, are used to prepare an area so that prescribed fire can be utilized safely.

landscape with ferns and trees

Pre-burn and post-burn photo points in the Bill’s Hill burn unit at Canaveral National Seashore. NPS photos by Shanna Ramsey.

Wildland Urban Interface (WUI)

Much of the effort in fuels reduction is focused in and around Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) developments both inside and outside of parks. Effective fuels mitigation treatments are implemented across jurisdictional boundaries, on adjoining private lands, or within the respective communities with coordination, collaboration, and partnering of these projects. Projects of this type include fuel breaks, thinning, pruning, landscape modifications, etc.

exterior of log cabin and front steps

Before and after mechanical fuels reduction around Colter Bay Cabins at Grand Teton National Park.