Forest Service Report Spotlights Fire Risk for Homes Near Wildlands

By Beacon Staff

Earlier this year, U.S. Forest Service researchers found that roughly 90 percent of fuel reduction treatments on national forests were effective in reducing the intensity of wildfire while also allowing for better wildfire control.

The report, “Wildfire, Wildlands, and People: Understanding and Preparing for Wildfire in the Wildland-Urban Interface,” synthesizes the latest research and provides examples of what communities in the wildland-urban interface can do to reduce their risk by becoming “fire adapted.”

Aimed at community planners, the report also underscores the important roles that homeowners and local, state, and federal governments play in reducing risk and describes available tools and resources.

“The Wildfire, Wildlands and People report reminds us that people can and should take steps to protect their homes from wildfires,” said U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell. “Communities with robust wildfire prevention programs are likely to have fewer human-caused wildfires. In addition, fire intensity is dramatically reduced in areas where restoration work has occurred.”

Between 2006 and 2011, some 600 assessments were completed on wildfires that burned into areas where restoration work had taken place. In most of these cases, fire intensity was reduced dramatically in treated areas. Residents can reduce excess vegetation within and around a community to reduce the intensity and growth of future fires and create a relatively safe place for firefighters to work to contain a wildfire, should one occur.

From 2001-2011, an average of 85 percent of wildfires in the U.S. were human caused. The two areas with the highest percentage of wildfires caused by people are the East (99 percent) and the South (96 percent).

The report is part of the Forests on the Edge project, which seeks to identify areas across the country where timber, wildlife habitat and water quality might be affected on private forests by factors such as development, fire, insect pests and diseases.

The project also seeks to understand where increases in housing density on lands adjacent to national forests and grasslands might affect recreation, wildlife, water resources and other important public benefits.

The Forest Service manages 193 million acres of public land, provides assistance to state and private landowners and maintains the largest forestry research organization in the world. Forest Service lands contribute more than $13 billion to the economy each year through visitor spending alone. Those same lands provide 20 percent of the nation’s clean water supply, a value estimated at $7.2 billion per year. The agency also has either a direct or indirect role in stewardship of about 80 percent of the 850 million forested acres within the U.S., of which 100 million acres are urban forests where most Americans live.

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