You are here


Designing fuel sampling methods that accurately and efficiently assesses fuel loads at relevant spatial scales requires knowledge of each sample method’s strengths and tradeoffs.

Few studies have evaluated sampling methods as to their effectiveness in estimating accurate fuel loadings across all surface fuel components. In this study, we will compare three sampling methods (planar intercept, microplot measurement, microplot photoload) for estimating eight surface fuel components (litter, duff, 1, 10, 100, 1000 hr, shrub, herb) using a duel approach where synthetic fuelbeds of known fuel loadings will be created for the fine woody fuels (1, 10, 100 hr) in the parking lot of the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory, and field sampling at various locations in western Montana, USA will be used to evaluate the all fuel components. For each of the eight fuels, we compare the relative differences in load values among techniques; and the differences in load between each method and a reference sample. We will also evaluate various sub-methods and sampling intensities within each of the three sampling methods. Totals from each method are rated for how much they deviate from totals for the reference in each fuel category. Results from this study will be used to guide fuel inventory and monitoring sampling designs to select the most appropriate techniques for each fuel component.


In this study, we explore how three sampling methods compare in their ability to assess downed woody debris loading and also how a different implementation of three techniques compare when sampling shrub, herb, litter, and duff load. These down woody techniques include: 1) microplot measurement, 2) photoload, and 3) planar intercept. The microplot methods will be used to assess shrub, herb, litter and duff. We evaluate various sampling intensities and sub-methods on their precision and accuracy. We evaluate each technique based on: (1) how its estimated loading compares to a reference sample; (2) how much time it requires to complete sampling; and (3) how much training is needed to implement it. Our goal is to provide a guide to the tradeoffs involved in using each of these fuel-load sampling techniques and provide suggestions for matching the appropriate sampling method to resource- and fire-management applications.

For additional information, please download the STIX study plan.

Top photo: Researchers are pioneering new methods to accurately estimate coarse woody debris loadings in natural settings

Bottom photos: Researchers created an artificial fuel bed in the parking lot behind the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory to test sampling of woody fuels. Pictured are people measuring fuel properties using various methods to test the methods’ accuracy.

Photo: STIX project work
Photo: STIX project work
Modified: May 28, 2014

Select Publications & Products

Keane RE, Gray K (2013) Comparing three sampling techniques for estimating fine woody down dead biomass. International Journal of Wildland Fire 22 (8):1093-1107. doi: