- Increase the implementation of prescribed fire cross-boundary and across landscapes
- Relax air quality regulations related to prescribed fire emissions
- Uncouple human activity related emissions from prescribed fire related emissions
- Increase EPA emissions standards thresholds by respective periods, thus easing requirements on States to reduce potential for communities from reaching non-attainment designations.
- Educate the population about prescribed fire smoke emissions, disseminating information for, and to at-risk populations and the general populous.
Wildland fires have been a key part of North American ecosystems and landscapes for millennia. Native Americans, before European settlement, used fire as a land management tool, promoting forest health and the abundance of wildlife and resources for hunting and gathering. As Europeans began to settle the North American continent, fires became increasingly excluded from vast portions of the landscape inevitably leading to an excess of woody debris and new forest vegetation. Suppression during the 20th century became so efficient that the typical citizen became accustomed to intrusions by fire and smoke into their daily lives. However, today in the 21st century, our fire suppression debts of the 20th must be repaid. The current policy and regulation environment can be more of less unforgiving when dealing with fire and smoke emissions. Social acceptance of fire and smoke must be sought by public land management agencies, managers and politicians in order to reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires and decrease dangerous smoke emissions from uncontrolled burning. In the following policy brief, coverage of needed policy alterations and alternatives will be addressed.
Alternatives to Policy Recommendations and Prescribed Fire:
While increased prescribed fire implementation is the optimal recommendation to complete landscape and ecosystem restoration, other less effective but less invasive methods of restoration exist. The mastication and chipping of forest fuels reduces the fuel loading and changes the distribution of fuels across the landscapes. However, mastication methods of forest restoration and fire mitigation are largely ineffective at large scales and extremely costly when compared to prescribed fire. Mastication does not remove fuels from the environment, but rather redistributes fuels into different structural levels of stands, resulting in modified fire behavior and persistent danger to communities.
Prescribed Fire’s Unmatched Ecosystem Benefits:
The implementation of fuels reduction treatments will reduce immediate growing stock of carbon on the landscape, but also reduce fire severity. North and Hurteau (2011) present pre-fire and pretreatment estimations of live tree carbon stocks at 145.3 Mg C ha-1, with treatment stands reducing live carbon concentrations by 34%. The results show that in untreated burned stands, residual carbon pools were 7.8 Mg C ha-1, while treated and burned stands contained 100.5 Mg C ha-1, demonstrating a difference in wildfire carbon emissions across treatments. North and Hurteau (2011) also determined that wildfire carbon emissions averaged 11% and 25% of total carbon stores in treated and untreated stands respectively. This research shows the importance of implementing some type of fuels treatment to mitigate the potential damage caused by an uncontrollable wildfire.
Potentials Management Alternatives to Prescribed Fire:
Additional options for fuels treatments could be mastication or chipping of material rather than prescribed burning. This method would reduce ladder fuel loading and fuel continuity, but unless the material is removed from site, there is still potential risk of fire. Integrating these fuels treatments with a prescribed burn would drastically reduce wildfire risk in fire prone areas and begin to repay the debt to ecosystem health that over a century of fire suppression has created. Prescribed burning options are handcuffed with current air quality standards proving far too stringent to accomplish any significant acreage treated; smoke sensitive areas greatly restrict burning opportunities due to poor transport winds – resulting in too high of PM2.5 concentrations
Costs and Benefits of Alternative Approaches:
Alternative approaches to forest and landscapes restoration can and will be effective methods for fuels reductions and catastrophic wildfire mitigation. However, the increased implementation of prescribed is critical to future and health and safety of communities, providing a faster, more efficient and effective means to achieve forest and landscape restoration and forest and community fire resilience.
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Link to original policy brief: