Timber product implications of a program of mechanical fuel treatments applied on public timberland in the Western United States
This study reports the results from a 5 year simulation of forest thinning intended to reduce fire hazard on publicly managed lands in the western United States. A state simulation model of interrelated timber markets was used to evaluate the timber product outputs. Approximately 84 million acres (34 million hectares), or 66% of total timberland in the western United States, is publicly managed; of this 78 million acres (31.6 million hectares) are managed by the federal agencies. We considered three budget scenarios using a least-expensive highest-hazard area first policy. Our intention with this simulation is not to definitively answer questions about where or how to conduct treatments to reduce fire hazard on public lands but rather to begin to develop tools that can be used to inform such a policy debate. Considerable development of this tool is still needed before it will be useful for that purpose. Our initial simulations nonetheless provide insight into what might happen if available funds were allocated to the least-expensive highest-hazard areas across the west. Using assumptions of (1) an annual “subsidy” (payments for treatments), (2) the treatment costs, (3) the priority ranking by forest type, (4) fire hazard level, and (5) the wildland–urban interface (WUI) status, the simulation suggests that lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), spruce (Picea spp.)–fir (Abies spp.) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) are projected to be major forest types treated in the West. A combination of our treatment ranking assumptions and the low total treatable WUI acres on public timberland caused the model to concentrate almost exclusively on all the WUI stands and non-WUI ponderosa pine forest type at the budget of $150 million and $300 million. With the further increase of budget, a large proportion of treated acres are lodgepole pine and spruce–fir forest types using the thin-from-below approach. About 41% of the volume removals are sawtimber for all the public timberland treated under the low budget scenario ($150 million/year), 58 for moderate budget ($300 million/year), 50 for the high budget scenario ($1500 million/year). Under the moderate budget case ($300 million a year), about 19% of the total wood removed is projected to come from trees less than 5-inches (12.7 cm) in diameter at breast height (dbh), and another 16% of the biomass is expected from trees 20-inches (50.8 cm) dbh and above.