Evaluating the effectiveness of mitigation activities in the WUI

Lessons learned in the New Mexico wildland-urban interface

Santa Fe, New Mexico – Each year wildfires damage homes, businesses, communities, watersheds, and forests on millions of acres across the U.S. However there are effective ways to reduce the impact of wildfire. A new report, Evaluating the Effectiveness of Wildfire Mitigation Activities in the Wildland-Urban Interface, shares lessons learned from communities across New Mexico. Read a summary here.

For much of the 20th Century, an aggressive and successful effort suppressed most forest fires. However, many forests, particularly conifer forests of the western U.S., require low-intensity fires to stay healthy. Without these periodic fires, many forests have become dense, unhealthy, and at risk of high severity wildfire. In the U.S., unhealthy forests and high severity wildfire are hazards for the 99 million people living near forests in a zone called the wildland urban interface (WUI).

The Forest Stewards Guild’s new report identifies successful approaches to reducing wildfire hazard in the WUI. The report examined how fuel treatments change modeled wildfire behavior in 12 WUI areas, analyzed over 2,000 assessments of home wildfire hazard, studied the community hazard reduction program called Firewise, and integrated these different pieces of WUI mitigation efforts by studying the implementation of nine Community Wildfire Protection Plans (CWPPs) in New Mexico. The report presents strategies for success for creating CWPPs and mitigating wildfire in the WUI. The report was funded by the Joint Fire Science Program and can be downloaded at: www.foreststewardsguild.org/publications/research/2015/WUI_effectiveness.pdf.

Report Highlights:

  • Where communities and land managers apply appropriate strategies, they can reduce wildfire intensity enough to give firefighters the opportunity to protect lives and properties.
  • Two-thirds of homes analyzed lack key elements of defensible space. However, nearly 20 percent of the average home hazard could be reduced by taking relatively simple mitigation measures such as moving flammable material away from homes.
  • People are the key: community wildfire protection planning efforts that are inclusive and build trust within communities are linked to successful outcomes.

The Forest Stewards Guild’s Director of Science and Programs Zander Evans pointed out that,

 “There is no perfect solution, no silver bullet, to protect lives and properties within fire-adapted ecosystems. Creating fire-adapted communities requires a combination of fuel reduction treatments and home hazard mitigations. Ultimately, communities, community leaders, and public agencies need to work together to make those things happen effectively

The report found that effective treatments are guided by a strategic CWPP and include both thinning and surface fuel reduction. Neighbors and engaged individuals are crucial for expanding and deepening the adoption of home mitigation measures.  While fire can never be completely eliminated from fire-adapted ecosystems, building fire-adapted communities links the wide range of WUI mitigation approaches in a way that can significantly reduce the impacts of wildfires on communities.

Contact

Questions can be directed to Dr. Zander Evans, Director of Science and Programs at the Forest Stewards Guild: 505-983-8992 ext. 36 or zander@forestguild.org.