Rethinking the focus on forest fires in federal wildland fire management

Fire in piyon-juniper

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This study found that wildfires burned more area of non-forest lands than forest lands at the scale of the conterminous and western U.S. and the Department of Interior (DOI). In an agency comparison, 74% of DOI burned area occurred on non-forest lands and 78% of U.S. Forest Service burned area occurred on forested lands. Landscape metrics revealed key differences between forest and non-forest fire patterns and trends in total burned area, burned patch size, distribution, and aggregation over time across the western U.S. Opposite fire patterns emerged between non-forest and forest burns when analyzed at the scale of federal agency jurisdictions. In addition, a fire regime departure analysis comparing current large fire probability with historic fire trends identified certain vegetation types and locations experiencing more fire than historically. These patterns were especially pronounced for cold desert shrublands, such as sagebrush where increases in annual area burned, and fire frequency, size, and juxtaposition have resulted in substantial losses over a twenty-year period.

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