Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
FIA Project Y092230

    Reducing Wildfire Hazards in the Wildland Urban Interface: Impacts on Timber Yields and the Best Practices for Stand Management
Project lead: Hobby, Tom (Royal Roads University)
Author: Hobby, Tom
Subject: Forest Investment Account (FIA), British Columbia
Series: Forest Investment Account (FIA) - Forest Science Program
The BC Rocky Mountain Trench (RMT) has an estimated 250,000 hectares departed from historical fire regimes consisting of heavy fuel loads needing thinning and prescribed burning (RMT ER Steering Comm. 2006). Thousands of hectares are in the wildland urban interface (WUI), generally described as a 2 km buffer zone around municipalities, and pose significant wildfire risk (Filmon 2004). Several municipal initiatives within the RMT region have begun fuels treatments on high risk stands.

Causes and effects of the departure from historical fire regimes due to silvicultural practices and fire suppression in BC have been researched (Filmon 2004, Forest Practices Board [FPB] 2006). Initiatives such as the development of Fire Safe Councils in the US and the Fire Smart program and WUI funding in BC have begun to address WUI fuels problems. Many reports and initiatives identify the need for commercial opportunities to economically handle forest biomass to reduce wildfire risk (USDA 2003a, USDA 2003b). The US has documented the billions of dollars of wildfire costs (above suppression costs) in terms of lost timber values, environmental restoration, socio-economic costs and property values (USDA 2005) and BC has experienced similar losses, as documented from the 2003 fire season (Filmon 2004).

Silvicultural treatments, followed with prescribed burning are needed to minimize wildfire risk within WUI timber stands (Gray 2005). New guidelines are needed to assess these stands to incorporate fuels treatments into forest management plans. Responses by the Ministry of Forest and Range (MOFR) Protection Branch are addressing the recommendations of the Filmon (2004) report, however implementation is challenging. The MOFR and municipalities have begun treating WUI fuels within the region; however, the scale of treatments needs to be seriously increased to be effective. An increased risk of catastrophic wildfires in the RMT is probable if the scale of fuels treatments is not increased (Taylor 1998).

Problems facing fuels reduction efforts in the WUI include: lack of stand data to accurately model wildfire risk under current stand conditions; lack of integration between crown lands, First Nations reserves and private land owners, making strategies difficult to implement on a landscape level; and challenges to implement fuels reduction via prescribed burning due to smoke related issues. Lack of training by forest managers and registered professional foresters (RPFs) of the available tools and methods to assess wildfire risks has been a barrier to implementing fuels treatments and to meet stand restoration/forest health objectives (FPB 2006). There has also been a lack of knowledge about adequate tools and methods for making economic decisions related to prioritizing stand treatments for fuels removal in BC.

This project has been amended from the original goal of using 760 hectares of City of Cranbrook lands for a test site to a more variable and diverse stand structure in order to gain a more accurate ability to model fuels hazard and WUI treatments. The revised research plan will assess approximately 250 hectares near Cranbrook in areas that are WUI and a 100 hectare block in the City of Kimberley WUI. The reduction in size is primarily a factor of data collection costs and the fact that fuels treatment for the City lands that were originally identified has been delayed as an additional grant application to the UBCM has been written that will result in significant financial savings from the city’s WUI fuels treatment program and will allow them to treat a larger area of WUI fuels hazard sites. This project will assess fuels risk using current fuels assessment tools such as Fire Management Analyst Plus® (Carlton 2005) and determine the economic costs for fuels treatments using Landscape Management System (LMS) software (Rural Tech Inst 2006). These assessments will be used to determine wildfire risk under various stand treatments and integrate economic analyses for treatments on a stand/polygon basis. Best practices will be developed for planning and implementing fuels treatments resulting in a guidebook for forest managers, First Nations, and city planners.

This project will evaluate the current stumpage appraisal system to determine what revisions may make WUI treatment economical for licensees and First Nations. Companies across BC, Canada and the US are utilizing forest biomass for biofuels/energy, and pellets (BioCap 2006). The results of analyses evaluating the benefits and trade off of silvicultural treatments of timber and biomass production within a fuels reduction context have not been effectively integrated into forest management planning. Using current stumpage methods, attempts to utilize biomass from fuels treatments have faced economic challenges as negative stumpage from fuels treatments have been a limiting factor (Dureski 2005, Blissett 2006). The evaluation follows recommendations made by the FPB (2005) and Filmon report (2004) which state that amendments to current tenures and stumpage calculation methods are needed to encourage the proper treatments of high risk WUI stands and create incentives for industry and First Nations’ participation. Low value timber stands in the WUI are not a priority for licensees as fuels treatments are not economical and incentives for industry to co-operate in fuels reduction programs are lacking. This project will recommend reasonable methods in which to assess fair stumpage.

An evaluation of current tenures will also be conducted and recommendations made for modifying the current system enabling more flexibility that allows forest companies with tenures to maintain their AAC and not penalize tenure holders who participate in WUI fuels treatment projects.

The threat of wildfire risk poses millions of dollars of potential losses within the WUI, affecting timber production, ecosystem health, and personal property. The development of guidelines using proper tools for wildfire risk assessment and implementation, and an evaluation and recommendations for stumpage and tenure policy changes which create the proper incentives for implementing fuels treatments, is critical to BC forest management and has the potential to save the BC government, First Nations and private land owners millions of dollars. This project provides an excellent opportunity to engage local communities and stakeholders in discussions about wildfire risk and build capacity within these communities that leads to successful wildfire risk reduction in the WUI.

BioCap. Conf Proceedings. Oct 30-Nov 1 2006. Ottawa, Canada.*section=67&category=24 Accessed 19/12/06.
Blissett, S. Pers. comm. Jun 23 2006.
Carlton, D. Fuels Management Analyst Suite FMAPlus User’s Manual. Fire Program Solutions, LLC. OR. 2005
Dureski, B. Tembec Inc., Pers. comm. Dec 2005.
Firestorm 2003 – Prov. Review. The Honourable G. Filmon. 2004.
Forest Practices Board. Managing Forest Fuels. Report. Jun 2006.
Gray R.W., Blackwell, B.A. Forest Health, Fuels, and Wildfire: Implications for Long-Term Ecosystem Health. Jul 2005
RMT Ecosystem Restoration Steering Comm. Fire Maintained Ecosystem Restoration in the RMT. Blueprint for Action. 2006.
Rural Tech Institute. Landscape Mgmt System. Accessed 17/12/06.
Taylor, S.W., Baxter, G.J., Hawkes, B.C. Modeling the Effects of Forest Succession on Fire Behavior Potential in Southeastern BC. 1998.
US Dept of Ag. The Old Grand Prix and Padua Wildfires: How much did these Fires Really Cost? 2005
US Dept of Ag. Report on the ASV Small Parcel Fuel Reduction Demo. 2003a.
US Dept of Ag. Strategic Assessment of Forest Biomass and Fuel Reduction Treatments in the Western States. Apr 2003b.
Related projects:  FSP_Y081230
Contact: Hobby, Tom, (250) 588-4623,


Executive summary (0.3Mb)

To view PDF documents you need Adobe Acrobat Reader, available free from the Adobe Web Site.

Updated August 16, 2010 

Search for other  FIA reports or other Ministry of Forests and Range publications.

Please direct questions or comments regarding publications to