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Surface fuel characteristics, temporal dynamics, and fire behavior of masticated mixed-conifer fuelbeds of the Rocky Mountains

With fuel mastication gaining popularity as a fuel treatment in fire-prone areas of the United States (Kane et al. 2006), managers need a better understanding of the characteristics of masticated fuel and how masticated fuels change over time.

This study examines mixed-conifer masticated fuel beds of various ages at 15 sites in the Rocky Mountains. Our objectives are to: (1) describe the characteristics of different ages of masticated materials from diverse mixed-conifer forests; (2) determine the effect of fuel depth and time since treatment on masticated fuelbed layers; (3) determine how the age of masticated materials affects the probability of ignition, smoldering, and mass loss; and (4) construct and validate custom fuel models that predict fire behavior in mixed-conifer masticated fuelbeds.

By better understanding the characteristics and fire behavior of masticated fuels, the benefits and/or drawbacks of masticating can be fully evaluated. For managers, the information can assist in decisions to (1) burn the treated areas under controlled conditions to maintain the fire potential at a low level or to further reduce the fire potential; (2) leave materials on the ground until either the fire potential of these fuels is further reduced by decomposition; or (3) study the effects of burning of masticated materials by unplanned wildfires. The information gained during this study will provide managers contemplating mastication treatments with descriptions of the masticated particles and fuel loads of mixed-conifer forests, chemical analyses of the different ages of masticated materials, information on moisture availability, and descriptions of fire behavior. It will also provide information important to decisions on prescribing silvicultural treatments that might provide desired outcomes for mastication, such as the recommended sizes of chips that need to be created to decompose quickly if left on the ground. Managers can use this information to decide whether mastication is a viable fuel treatment for their management areas and management goals or not.

Photo: Masticated unit, Priest River Experimental Forest, northern Idaho, two years old.

Photo: mixed conifer
Modified: Apr 19, 2016

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