Restoration relevance of recent National Fire Plan treatments in forests of the western United States

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Abstract

The US National Fire Plan (NFP) is among the largest forest-restoration initiatives worldwide, removing wild-land fuels on about 11 million hectares and costing over $6 billion. We evaluated the extent to which areas treated under the NFP – from 2004 to 2008, in forest ecosystems outside the wildland–urban interface in 11 western states (“West”) – were predicted to need restoration, due to disruption of fire regimes and expected fuels buildup. Fuel-reduction treatments were implemented on about 1% of the West's forested areas. Forty-three percent of the treated area was predicted to have high-restoration need – almost twice as much as expected, given the distribution of these forests. However, an equal amount was in mixed- or uncertain-need forests, and 14% occurred in low-need forests, suggesting that managers need additional information on fire-regime disruptions in some forest ecosystems to help prioritize restoration activities. Only one-quarter of the West's forested area shows strong evidence of uncharacteristic fuels buildup, which is often emphasized as the primary cause of current wildfire problems, potentially directing attention away from other important drivers such as climate change and an expanding wildland–urban interface.

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