Seeing the forest for the fuel: Integrating ecological values and fuels management

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Management of dry forests often involves trade-offs between ecological values, particularly those associated with closed-canopy forests, and reduction of severe wildlife risk. We review principles and our ecological research that can be used to design stand- and landscape-level fuel treatments in dry coniferous forests of western North America. The focus of ecological values is on the ecological web that includes the northern spotted owl (Strix occidentalis caurina), its two primary prey species the northern flying squirrel (Glaucomys sabrinus) and bushy-tailed woodrat (Neotoma cinerea), and the vegetation (live and dead), mycorrhizal fungi, and arboreal lichens that support those prey species. For the landscape level, we describe an ongoing project to develop the FuelSolve computer tool that optimizes the area and location of a fuel treatment by minimizing potential fire behavior and minimizing loss of spotted owl habitat from treatment and potential fire. Some species will gain and some species will lose habitat when stand structure or composition is changed during fuel reduction treatments. Stand-level prescriptions might be altered to maintain or create patchiness of closed-canopy habitat elements, such as snags, down wood, mistletoe-infected trees, and large old trees, and open-canopy habitats can be tailored to ensure creation of suitable composition and structure for wildlife. Allocation of treatments across the landscape might be managed to minimize cumulative effects and impacts on target species populations. General approaches to landscape-level planning of ecologically sound fuel treatments include coarse- and fine-filter approaches. A coarse-filter approach would use some definition of the historical or natural range of variability to define the composition and pattern that might reasonably be expected to sustain the forest ecosystem. Three general approaches can inform fine-filter analysis and development of fuel reduction treatments at the landscape level. Population viability analysis provides sound principles based on attributes of the species population structure, life history and behavior, and environment (habitat) for guiding fine-filter analysis. Fine-filter analysis can be informed by operational modeling of treatment alternatives. Research publications can guide dry forest landscape management. Our FuelSolve optimization model described in this paper differs from other fuel planning models in this class by equally considering multiple optimization objectives for fuel treatment and ecologically important resources. We describe the results of FuelSolve prototype development, an evaluation of outputs for field use, and future development efforts.

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Forest Ecology and Management





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