Tamm review: The effects of prescribed fire on wildfire regimes and impacts: A framework for comparison

TitleTamm review: The effects of prescribed fire on wildfire regimes and impacts: A framework for comparison
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2020
AuthorsHunter, ME, Robles, MD
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Date Published07/2020
Keywordscarbon, emissions, prescribed fire, technical reports and journal articles, wildfire

Prescribed fire can result in significant benefits to ecosystems and society. Examples include improved wildlife
habitat, enhanced biodiversity, reduced threat of destructive wildfire, and enhanced ecosystem resilience.
Prescribed fire can also come with costs, such as reduced air quality and impacts to fire sensitive species. To plan
for appropriate use of prescribed fire, managers need information on the tradeoffs between prescribed fire and
wildfire regimes. In this study, we argue that information on tradeoffs should be presented at spatial and
temporal scales commensurate with the scales at which these processes occur and that simulation modeling
exercises should include some realistic measure of wildfire probability. To that end, we synthesized available
scientific literature on relationships between prescribed fire and wildfire regimes, and their associated ecological
and societal effects, focusing specifically on simulation modeling studies that consider wildfire probability and
empirical and modeling studies that consider prescribed fire and wildfire regimes at spatial and temporal scales
beyond individual events. Both empirical and modeling studies overwhelmingly show that increasing use of
prescribed fire can result in wildfire regimes of lower extent and intensity. In some studies, a consequence
associated with increased use of prescribed fire is an increase in the total, cumulative amount of fire on a
landscape over time. Presumably this has implications for emissions and ecosystem carbon, however, effects on
ecosystem carbon dynamics are much less clear as results vary considerably across studies. Results likely vary
because studies use various landscape models with different parameter settings for processes (e.g., vegetation
succession) and use different methodologies, time frames, and fire management and climate change scenarios.
Future syntheses and meta-analyses would benefit from researchers providing more comprehensive and transparent
documentation of model parameters, assumptions, and limitations. The literature review also revealed
that studies on the implications of prescribed fire and wildfire regimes with regard to values other than carbon
and emissions are scant and this represents a critical research need. Empirical studies are needed to calibrate and
provide magnitude of order comparisons with simulation models and address tradeoffs with respect to other
values (e.g., wildland urban interface, wildlife habitat). Such studies should be conducted with consideration for
our framework, which includes the implications of prescribed fire and wildfire across broad spatial and temporal