Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



The fire behavior modeling described here, conducted as part of the Biomass to Energy (B2E) life cycle assessment, is funded by the California Energy Commission to evaluate the potential net benefits associated with treating and utilizing forest biomass. The B2E project facilitates economic, environmental, energy, and effectiveness assessments of the potential public benefits associated with: (1) various options for treatment, disposition, and utilization of forest biomass and (2) energy production from biomass produced by forest remediation activities. The study models forest conditions, fire behavior and fuel changes over a 40-year period, under three fuel treatment scenarios: no treatment; harvest and thinning on industrial private lands; and a range of prescriptions on industrial private and public multiple use ownerships. Effects of three fuel treatment scenarios are evaluated on fuel treatment effectiveness, economic feasibility, energy production supported, ecosystem impacts, and the location and capacity of modeled biomass facilities. The B2E project is novel in its scale of analysis, modeling the landscape effects of fire and treatments on 2.7 million acres of forest and brushland in the northern Sierra Nevada. This landscape represents high-hazard fuel areas, a broad range of ownerships, diverse habitats, complex infrastructure, and other values at risk. With 50 percent public multiple use and 17 percent industrial private lands, this landscape provides a unique opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of Strategically Placed Area Treatments (SPLATs) and compare them with industrial private thinning and harvest. With average pretreatment biomass levels of 79 bone-dry tons (bdts) per acre, the private treatments removed an average of 31 bdts/acre while SPLATs removed an average of 24 bdts/acre. Wildfire modeling of these treatments showed a 6 percent reduction in the number of acres burned from private treatments and a 22 percent reduction from both private and SPLATs on public lands. While the ownerships, forest type, density, and slope dictated the type of treatment prescriptions, the spatial arrangement of treatments has a greater impact on their ability to change fire intensity and extent than the prescription applied.