Date of Award

3-2011

Degree Name

MS in Forestry Sciences

Department

Natural Resources Management

Advisor

Christopher A. Dicus

Abstract

ABSTRACT

EFFECTS OF WILDLAND-URBAN INTERFACE FUEL TREATMENTS ON POTENTIAL FIRE BEHAVIOR AND ECOSYSTEM SERVICES IN THE CENTRAL SIERRA NEVADA MOUNTAINS OF CALIFORNIA

Christopher C. Hamma

For the past several decades, the wildland-urban interface (WUI) has been expanding in the low- to mid-elevation mixed-conifer belt of California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range. Concurrently, the effects of fire exclusion and shifting climatic patterns in this region have led to increases in wildfire size and severity, posing an ever-greater risk to life and property. As a result, the need for implementation of fuel treatments to reduce fire hazard is generally recognized to be urgent. However, by removing vegetation, these treatments may also diminish the ability of forest ecosystems to provide valuable ecosystem services to society. Forest managers, landowners, and other WUI stakeholders would therefore benefit from a better understanding of the effects of various fuel treatment types on both fire hazard reduction and ecosystem benefits. The present study examined the effects of four commonly-used fuel treatment types on stand-level forest structural characteristics, surface and canopy fuel loading, potential fire behavior, air pollution removal, and carbon sequestration and storage. Fuel treatments involving thinning and/or prescribed burning were largely successful at reducing live and dead fuel loading, with corresponding reductions in predicted fire behavior. The little-studied but increasingly popular practice of mastication (chipping or shredding small trees and brush and leaving the debris on the ground) was associated with significantly increased surface fuel loading, although deleterious effects on potential fire behavior were not found. Overall, the findings from the fire and fuels portion of the present research largely match those reported in other, similar studies in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. However, the current analysis found little in the way of significant treatment effects on stand-level air pollution removal or carbon dynamics. This study was affected by challenges including small sample size and high variability in the data; nonetheless, the results underscore the general validity of fuel treatment implementation in central Sierra Nevada WUI areas for moderating wildfire severity and effects, with the recognition that the efficacy of such treatments may be limited under extreme weather conditions.