Assessing fuel treatment effectiveness using satellite imagery and spatial statistics


  • Corresponding Editor: D. McKenzie.


Understanding the influences of forest management practices on wildfire severity is critical in fire-prone ecosystems of the western United States. Newly available geospatial data sets characterizing vegetation, fuels, topography, and burn severity offer new opportunities for studying fuel treatment effectiveness at regional to national scales. In this study, we used ordinary least-squares (OLS) regression and sequential autoregression (SAR) to analyze fuel treatment effects on burn severity for three recent wildfires: the Camp 32 fire in western Montana, the School fire in southeastern Washington, and the Warm fire in northern Arizona. Burn severity was measured using differenced normalized burn ratio (dNBR) maps developed by the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity project. Geospatial data sets from the LANDFIRE project were used to control for prefire variability in canopy cover, fuels, and topography. Across all three fires, treatments that incorporated prescribed burning were more effective than thinning alone. Treatment effect sizes were lower, and standard errors were higher in the SAR models than in the OLS models. Spatial error terms in the SAR models indirectly controlled for confounding variables not captured in the LANDFIRE data, including spatiotemporal variability in fire weather and landscape-level effects of reduced fire severity outside the treated areas. This research demonstrates the feasibility of carrying out assessments of fuel treatment effectiveness using geospatial data sets and highlights the potential for using spatial autoregression to control for unmeasured confounding factors.