Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant Monitoring



A unique aspect to the Wildfire Risk Reduction Grant (WRRG) program was the inclusion of funding for monitoring to examine the effectiveness of fire mitigation activities and grant resources.  The Colorado Forest Restoration Institute (CFRI) housed at Colorado State University designed and implemented a monitoring process to measure changes in fire potential and fuel hazard reduction accomplished with WRRG funds.  Comprehensive on the ground fuels measurements are being collected before and after fire mitigation activities at a subset of WRRG projects to learn from the range of forest conditions, geographies, and vegetation management techniques being implemented around the state. Through 2016, CFRI has measured more than 500 monitoring plots at over 30 sites that have received WRRG funds.  The monitoring process developed by CFRI is easily replicated and is being utilized by natural resource professionals such as the Colorado State Forest Service for other fire mitigation projects outside the WRRG program.  In addition to measuring fire hazard, social and economic factors related to fuel reduction treatments and equipment purchases are being analyzed to determine the overall effectiveness of WRRG program funds.


Most projects are focused on reducing crown fire potential, and fire modeling results based on monitoring data indicate many achieve this goal when tree density and ladder fuels are significantly reduced.  Reducing crown fire helps with fire suppression by keeping fire on the ground, which is easier to suppress than in the tops of the trees.  In addition to fire suppression benefits, promoting forest conditions that burn in low intensity surface fire may reduce negative impacts such as post fire erosion and degraded water quality, increase survival of existing trees in a fire event, and restore ecological integrity in certain frequent fire vegetation types (ex. ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir).


While crown fire reduction is a success story for the WRRG program, monitoring results are demonstrating that surface fuels are rarely reduced and often increase, sometimes substantially, after fuel treatment.  This does not mean that crown fire reductions are for naught, but indicates that slash management and surface fuel accumulation are a barrier to increasing fire mitigation success for many WRRG projects.  Reducing the accumulation and continuity of woody surface fuels is an important aspect of effective fire mitigation to maintain fire suppression benefits and minimize negative post fire impacts.


By including monitoring as part of the WRRG program and measuring the quality of acres treated rather than just the quantity of work done, we are now able to better describe tradeoffs between implementation costs with their relative fire mitigation effectiveness.  Limited wood utilization opportunities and little use of controlled burns on non-federal lands in Colorado limit our ability to manage woody surface fuel loads.  The WRRG program is working to use monitoring data and improve program effectiveness, and recent changes now allow for WRRG funds to be used on controlled broadcast burns.  Capacity building grants through the WRRG program are a unique mechanism for communities to purchase biomass boilers and other equipment to increase capacity for wood utilization industries in Colorado.

Within the WRRG program, it is evident that projects with clear, measureable objectives from the outset result in more effective fire mitigation outcomes, indicating education and pre-planning are key’s to success.  The monitoring is finding that overall the WRRG program is a success, accomplishing thousands of acres of quality fire mitigation across Colorado while also localizing science support and increasing our understanding of how to better implement effective fire mitigation projects across non-federal lands in Colorado.

Brett Wolk