Hazardous fuel is any kind of living or dead vegetation that is flammable. To meet desirable management goals, managers can modify the structure, distribution and vegetation type on a landscape. Prescribed fire, mechanical treatments and the careful use of natural fire are tools to help land managers meet the goals, objectives and desired conditions for the agency or tribe’s Hazardous Fuel Reduction (HFR) Management Program.
Fuels management activities take place either in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), or outside of it. The WUI is essentially where wildland fuels begin to interface with urbanized areas. Most emphasis is now on managing activities in the WUI. These activities are of primary focus because reducing hazardous fuels around the urban interface increases public and firefighter safety, and reduces the risk of unwanted wildfire to communities. Mitigating the risk of hazardous fuels around important infrastructure like radio towers, transportation networks, municipal watersheds and utilities is another reason fuels management is important. In Indian Country, hazardous fuel reduction projects also strengthen rural economic sustainability and increase opportunities for economic diversification.
While there is an emphasis of treating fuels near the WUI, most hazardous fuel projects take place outside of the WUI. Restoring and maintaining healthy fire-adapted ecosystems keeps natural systems balanced and also reduces the risks to cultural and historic places. Deserts, grasslands, tundra, scrublands, forestlands, estuaries and riparian zones are all ecosystems where fire naturally occurs. Natural Resource Management in Indian Country has historically been associated with in the wildlands.
Prescribed Fire Treatments
The natural role of fire is an essential part of the ecological process. Using fire as a tool to achieve resource management objectives is maybe the only effective tool natural resource managers have to restore the natural balance of the wildland on a large-scale. Prescribed burning is the deliberate and careful application of fire on a landscape. Fire managers cannot perform any kind of prescribed burn without first attending to national interagency policy for prescribe fire, complying with National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), and other environmental compliance requirements. Each treatment requires specific burn plans with measurable burn objectives that clearly define operational procedures for implementation, monitoring, escapes and contingency resources. Prescribed burning is a tool managers may use as a singular event, or in combination with other mechanical treatments to reduce vegetation buildup. In fire-adapted systems, fire should be present on a recurring cycle that is consistent with the natural fire regimes to sustain ecosystem functionality.
Mechanical treatments are most often used in areas where fire has been excluded from for long periods of time, or around communities where prescribed fire or smoke management may have unintended consequences. A mechanical treatment can include thinning, regeneration cuts, pruning, mastication, chipping. Products from these activities often produce biomass.