Developing an integrated system for mechanical reduction of fuel loads at the wildland/urban interface in the southern United States
Prescribed fire is used routinely in the southern United States to reduce fuel loading and decrease the risk of catastrophic wildfires, improve forest health, and manage threatened and endangered species. With rapid human population growth, southern forests have become fragmented by an extensive road network and intertwined with urban uses in a wildland-urban interface (WUI) pattern. It is practically impossible to use prescribed fire in the more urbanized portions of the interface. Nevertheless, fuel reduction treatments still are needed in fire-dominated “urban woodlands.” Alternatives to prescribed burning may involve mechanical reduction of current fuel loads and maintenance of low-risk understory through herbicides. Techniques are needed that can effectively reduce fuel loads through mechanical means, and are acceptable to homeowners. Additionally, utilization scenarios need to be identified for this class of raw material to make removal economically attractive to operators. An integrated system is being developed that will manage fuel loads in urban woodlands through mechanical means.