Monday, 17 November 2003: 3:45 PM
Implications for fire and fuels management
The demand for a nationally consistent condition variable for wildland fire and fuel management developed as a result of the 1988, 1990s, and 2000 fire seasons. Coming internally from administration and agency leadership and externally from Congress and concerned publics the demand emerged from a need to have a general condition measure related to the changing characteristics of wildland fuels and associated fire behavior and effects. Many in fire and fuels management recognized that the conditions associated with the natural regimes prior to fire exclusion produced more desirable behavior and effects than the current conditions. In the late 1990s fire management engaged scientists at the Fire Laboratory in Missoula in development of a measure that would be a general indicator of the condition of the fire regime and fire-adapted ecosystems. This measure was also designed to be associated with the relative risk of loss of key ecosystem components to uncharacteristic vegetation and fuel conditions or wildland fire behavior and effects. Key ecosystem components include indicators such as large old trees, soil, water, native species, and air. The resulting measure was the fire regime condition class (FRCC) which was mapped at the coarse-scale across the lower 48 states. This measure has been used effectively to tell the story of the need for fire use and fuel management to restore and maintain healthy fire regimes and the associated forests and rangelands. When used at the correct scale coarse-scale FRCC has told the story of why and where severe fire seasons and declining forests and rangelands occur. FRCC has become a key measure for displaying consequences of fire and fuel management program levels and reporting accomplishments. Administration and agency leadership, Congress, and involved publics generally appear to understand FRCC and associated implications. We have been criticized by the General Accounting Office (GAO) and other concerned entities that we have not moved rapidly enough in mapping at finer scales and use of FRCC for project prioritization, planning, and monitoring. Given that we published the first definition and coarse-scale maps of FRCC in 2001, we published an improved version in 2002, and field (project) procedures in 2003 I would argue that we are doing well. However, in order to maintain our credibility, we must continue to make rapid progress, particularly in showing consistency in application of the definitions and methods in fire use and fuels inventory, planning, and monitoring.