Land management practices in much of the western US that included wildland fire suppression have led to greater fuel loads than has been typical of historical fire regimes. In response to the increased wildland fire risk, “restoration” has emerged as a forest management goal. Restoration involves removal of uncharacteristic amounts and combinations of fuels by prescribed fire or mechanical thinning with the goal of reducing the destructive potential of wildland fire. While the practice of fuel reduction is widespread in forest management, there has been little research broadly assessing its effectiveness. Most of the existing research has involved small-scale opportunistic case studies on wildland fires encountering recent restoration projects. It is important to know at the forest level whether restoration practices are successful so that they may be improved where needed. This study investigated whether LiDAR (a form of remote sensing) taken before and after a restoration project in the Malheur National Forest can be used to quantify changes in vertical fuel continuity. The advantage of LiDAR is that it offers the opportunity to gather data on a larger scale than field observations alone. Analysis was performed with FUSION, a computer program developed by the US Forest Service to analyze LiDAR data, and calibrated with field data taken concurrently with LiDAR acquisition.
The predicted improvements in vertical fuel continuity throughout the study were not significantly greater than the error of the predictive models. This suggests that the improvement in vertical fuel continuity due to hazard fuel reduction treatment throughout the study area was minimal. The results also suggest that LiDAR may not be sensitive enough to detect small changes in vertical fuel continuity, though such small changes may not have much effect on fire behavior. This study offers forest managers a new tool for evaluating the potential effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments in reducing potential damage due to wildland fire, and the effectiveness of the treatment location selection process.