What are fuels?
Anything that can burn is fuel for a wildfire. During a wildland fire, all kinds of vegetation can act as fuel, including grasses, shrubs, trees, dead leaves, and fallen pine needles. As these burnable materials pile up, so do the chances of catastrophic wildfire. In the right conditions, excess fuel allows fires to burn hotter, larger, longer, and faster, making them more difficult and dangerous to manage.
Why manage fuels?
- The BLM manages fuels to restore and maintain ecosystems and to protect values at risk. We create fuels treatments to match ecosystem needs, protect values and lessen catastrophic wildfire risk.
- We manage fuels to improve the efficiency and safety of wildfire suppression.
- We manage fuels to reduce the chances that lives or property will be damaged or lost to wildfire.
Fuels management plays a critical role in reducing wildfire risk, improving wildfire resiliency and promoting fire-adapted communities. This effort is critical considering the vast spread of wildfire threats throughout the West, as the BLM works to address more than 70% of DOI’s wildfire risk.
How do we identify wildfire risk?
Wildfire risk continues to grow in the United States. The BLM national office of Fire Planning and Fuels Management implemented an assessment to map wildfire risks across the nation. Identifying areas where wildfire poses a threat to communities and resources across BLM managed lands is just the start.
The risk assessment was completed in 2020 and utilizes comprehensive modeling and data sets to show the wildfire risk on a national scale. The risk assessment results, in combination with other factors determined by the local unit, help the BLM determine priority areas for allocating fuels program funding, focusing on areas with the highest risk.
BLM’s Unique Challenge: The Fire and Invasives Cycle
Most BLM-managed public lands are composed of non-forested shrub and grass ecosystems. Invasive weeds, which make landscapes more flammable, are present in many of these ecosystems. Cycles of frequent wildfire followed by invasive weeds are impacting vast areas of the western U.S., particularly in the sagebrush-steppe ecosystem. Because of the fire and invasives cycle, many western ecosystems are experiencing too much wildfire compared to historical fire regimes. Suppressing wildfires in these ecosystems is costly and puts wildland firefighters and the public at risk.
The BLM is working to preserve ecosystems that are currently not impacted by invasive weeds while restoring ecological balance in other ecosystems where invasive weeds are changing the landscape and increasing wildfire risk. This work supports healthy public lands, reduces wildfire risk and decreases wildfire suppression costs.
To address these fire-invasives challenges, the BLM conducts a wide variety of fuels treatment projects, including fuel breaks, mechanical treatments, grazing, chemical, biological treatments, and prescribed fire. Fuels treatment options are challenging in areas where invasive weeds are present; many of these areas are experiencing too much wildfire.
For most vegetation treatment projects, pre-treatment assessments are conducted before selecting one or more treatment methods. These assessments involve consideration of all feasible treatments, including their potential effectiveness based on previous experience, local monitoring results and best available science, potential environmental impacts, and costs.