Comparing Geography and Severity of Managed Wildfires in California and the Southwest USA before and after the Implementation of the 2009 Policy Guidance

Jose M. Iniguez, Alexander M. Evans, Sepideh Dadashi, Jesse D. Young, Marc D. Meyer, Andrea E. Thode, Shaula J. Hedwall, Sarah M. McCaffrey, Stephen D. Fillmore, Rachel Bean

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract

Managed wildfires, i.e., naturally ignited wildfires that are managed for resource benefits, have the potential to reduce fuel loads, minimize the effects of future wildfires, and restore critical natural processes across many forest landscapes. In the United States, the 2009 federal wildland fire policy guidance was designed to provide greater flexibility in the use of managed wildfires, but the effects of this policy on wildfires in the western US are not yet fully understood. Our goal was to compare managed and full suppression wildfires and to also analyze the differences between managed wildfires across space (Arizona/New Mexico and California) and time (before and after 2009) using four metrics for each wildfire: (1) distance to wilderness, (2) distance to the wildland–urban interface (WUI), (3) the percentage of area burned with high severity, and (4) the number of land management agencies. Across the study area, we found that managed wildfires were significantly closer to wilderness areas, were farther from the WUI, had a lower percentage of area that was burned at high severity, and had fewer agencies involved in managing the fire compared to full suppression wildfires. In California, managed wildfires occurred closer to wilderness and had a larger percentage of high-severity burn area compared to those in the southwest US (Arizona and New Mexico). Within each region, however, there were no significant geographic differences between managed wildfires before and after the implementation of the 2009 policy guidance. Despite the greater flexibility of the 2009 policy guidance, the basic geographic properties of managed wildfires in these two regions have not changed. As the climate warms and droughts intensify, the use of managed wildfires will need to expand during favorable weather conditions in order to address the threat of large and uncharacteristic wildfires to people and ecosystems.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number793
JournalForests
Volume13
Issue number5
DOIs
StatePublished - May 2022

Keywords

  • California
  • fuel treatments
  • managed wildfire
  • policy
  • Southwest United States
  • wildfires

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry

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