Many times fire managers will say they are managing fires for resource objectives. What does managing fire for resource objectives really mean? Where are Resource Objective Fires used? What are the benefits or impacts?
Managing a fire for resource objectives does not happen everywhere on the forest. Wilderness areas are a good example of where fires will be managed differently also known as managing for resource objectives. The resource is the forest as a whole including the wildlife habitat. The objective is to bring back the historic stand structure that a natural forest would retain. The Nez Perce-Clearwater National Forest has portions of 4 wilderness areas; together they constitute the largest contiguous area of wild country outside of Alaska. Management in these areas on all aspects is different from managing the other forested lands.
When people think of managing a fire they think of crews, engines, air planes, helicopters, and overhead supporting a full suppression effort. Managing fires for resource objectives is a little different. It is still managed; however it is not necessarily managed on the ground. The fire is monitored from the air; landmarks, fire breaks, the fuels, topography and weather are identified. This data is imputed into computer based modeling program, allowing fire officials to analyze several different fire scenarios. From these scenarios a plan is developed anticipating how large and in what direction the fire will burn. At that point, fire managers look for assets within the parameters. Assets might be trails, cabins, or air strips. Management action points are set, highlighting where action will be taken if the fire nears the wilderness boundary or any of these assets. Action might be air support, crews setting up sprinklers or removing fuels to slow the fire’s progression. Patrol flights continue to monitor and report on the fires as well as infrared mapping flights which show fire managers the spots of heat and the real perimeter of the fire. When any new intelligence is received, new computer models are run and the previous plan is revised.
Fire managers have been actively managing fire for resource objectives on the Nez Perce-Clearwater NFs for nearly 40 years. Fire is a tool that can help forest managers maintain the natural aspect of the forest. The forest in its natural stand structure is very mosaic. There might be some stands of large old shade tolerant trees, but there are many open meadows and stands of mixed species and mixed heights. “The wilderness areas are on a large scale very diverse, not typical of what we see in the managed forest outside the wilderness” states Doug Graves Assistant Fire Management Officer for the Moose Creek Ranger District. Wildfires burn in much the same way, a mosaic pattern, less than 20% of a wildfire will be stand replacing. Stand replacement; meaning everything in the path of the fire is gone. Many times fires burn on the ground or the understory.
Presently, in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness there are 3 fires being managed for resource objective; California Point, Bailey, and Moose. Smoke from these fires may be seen from town and recreation access might be limited. However, in contrast these fires create diversity that only fires that burn for weeks unimpeded and closely monitored can create.
Forest across much of the west are fire dependent ecosystems where fire disturbance can reduce woody debris buildup, reduce tree species competition by thinning, maintains open spaces that are important for wildlife, and encourage new growth of browse for elk and deer populations. The Forest together with other cooperators are working on a project that uses mechanical means and prescribed fire to mimic this ecosystem created by wildfire. This partnership is called the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Project or CFLRP. The CFLRP expectation is to bring back the historic forest stand structure to the Northern Idaho forests, similar to that of the wilderness due in part by managing fires for resource objective.