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Prescribed Fire on Colorado's Front Range


Increasing the pace and scale of fuel treatments to protect social and ecological values from severe wildfire is a major initiative of numerous land management agencies, organizations, and collaborative groups throughout the western United States, including the Colorado Front Range.  Broadcast prescribed fire is a relatively low-cost, effective management tool for achieving fuels reduction at scale but is often challenging to implement due to complex socio-ecological factors.  We present results of a multi-criteria suitability analysis intended to identify need, opportunities, and constraints for the use of broadcast prescribed fire on Colorado’s Front Range based on spatial factors including wildfire hazard, vegetation and fuel types, historical fire regimes, presence of existing fuel treatments, wildland-urban interface development, and predicted prescribed fire behavior.  Within our 1.7 million-hectare (ha) analysis area, over 228,000 ha (approximately 13%) were classified as highly suitable for broadcast prescribed fire.  Areas of high suitability were split roughly 50:50 between public federal lands (5.3%) and private lands (6.1%), emphasizing the importance of implementing prescribed fire across ownerships to meet management objectives at scale.  Patch size analysis revealed opportunities for large-scale (>500 ha) prescribed fire projects spatially distributed throughout the Front Range.  These areas may serve as anchors for developing projects focused on protecting values at risk, including wildland-urban interface communities and water resources.  Results of this analysis can be used in collaborative settings to develop comprehensive fuels reduction and forest restoration strategies that incorporate the use of prescribed fire, including identifying where mechanical treatments could be applied on the landscape to facilitate the use of broadcast prescribed fire over large extents, as well as where prescribed fire may be a viable option for long-term maintenance of treatments.  While our analysis focuses on the Colorado Front Range, it can be replicated in other fire-prone areas of the western United States based on the availability of local data. 

Addington, R.N., Tavernia, B.G., Caggiano, M.D., Thompson, M.P., Lawhon, J.D., and Sanderson, J.S. 2020. Identifying opportunities for the use of broadcast prescribed fire on Colorado’s Front Range. Forest Ecology and Management 458: Article 117655.