Do Forest Fuel Treatments Work?

It is remarkable that despite decades of on-the-ground evidence, and volumes of scientific reviews, there still remains opposition to fuel treatments for creating fire resistant and resilient forests.

By Mark Buckbee

Let’s start with definitions.

Fuel treatment is mechanical removal of fuels (woody materials) using thinning and/or use of prescribed fire.

A resistant forest is one whose physical characteristics (fuel loading, distribution, species composition)will make them less likely to be ignited and more amenable to control.

A resilient forest has the ability to absorb disturbances such as fire, and re-organize under change to maintain similar function and structure (Scheffer 2009).

The opposition to fuels treatment is generally attributable to one or more of the following beliefs: 1) fire is natural and it is better to let forests burn and recover naturally; 2)forest thinning is really only an excuse for cutting trees; 3) no business entity should be allowed to make a profit from public lands; 4)fuel treatments don’t work. In this short article I will address the fourth scenario.

We determine that a treatment is effective when it is tested by wildfire, and the wildfire is subsequently controlled by firefighters. Forests which are treated but haven’t experienced fire do not contribute in proving this point. The United States Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, Park Service, and United States Fish and Wildlife Service have been charged with greatly ramping up fuel treatments. They have made some progress but have literally millions of acres of backlog. A burdensome, lengthy, planning process, and legal actions by environmental groups are the principal reasons why more isn’t being accomplished.

News sources are giving the topic of fuels treatment a good deal of coverage these days. Below is a partial list of wildfires for which fire managers stated that fuels treatments aided in the control of the fire in a particular location, allowing them to protect homes, buildings, whole towns, municipal watersheds, important natural resources etc. There are many other areas within the “fire footprint”where fuel treatments did not occur and resources were burned.

It is also important to understand that fuel treatment doesn’t necessarily mean that the treated land did not burn. It does means that the fire severity dropped in the treated areas and the firefighters were able to control the fires using ground and aerial resources, thus protecting resources of high importance.

Also, given reduced fire severity in treated stands, the vegetation, soils and other resources are less impacted, resulting in more rapid recovery, thus greater resilience.

Mark Buckbee is a retired Federal forester who had a 34-year career with the Bureau of Land Management in western Oregon. He holds a Bachelors degree in Forest Resources Management from SUNY-Syracuse and a Masters degree in Forest Science from Utah State University.

Contact Mark via email at See more from Communities for Healthy Forests at or visit the CHF Facebook page.

CALIFORNIA2021Tamarack FireMarkleville Community
OREGON2021Bootleg FireSycan Forest Estates
CALIFORNIA2020Shaver LakeShaver Lake Community
CALIFORNIA2002Cone FireBlack Mtn. Exp. Forest
CALIFORNIA2022Caldor FireMeyers, Christmas Valley
ARIZONA2022Wallow FireAlpine, Greer
COLORADO2022East Troublesome FireEstes Park WUI
ARIZONA2011Monument FireCoronado NM buildings
COLORADO2012Waldo Canyon FireColorado Springs WUI
WASHINGTON2021Schneider Springs FireGeneral Forest Resources



Shaver Lake
Tamarack Fire,Markleeville%20from%20the%20Tamarack%20Fire.
Cone Fire
Troublesome Fire

Waldo canyon
Schneider Springs Fire,303165?