Understanding the relative influence of fuels and climate on wildfires across the Rocky Mountains is necessary to predict how fires may respond to a changing climate and to define effective fuel management approaches to controlling wildfire in this increasingly populated region. The idea that decades of fire suppression have promoted unnatural fuel accumulation and subsequent unprecedentedly large, severe wildfires across western forests has been developed primarily from studies of dry ponderosa pine forests. However, this model is being applied uncritically across Rocky Mountain forests (e.g., in the Healthy Forests Restoration Act). We synthesize current research and summarize lessons learned from recent large wildfires (the Yellowstone, Rodeo-Chediski, and Hayman fires), which represent case studies of the potential effectiveness of fuel reduction across a range of major forest types. A “one size fits all” approach to reducing wildfire hazards in the Rocky Mountain region is unlikely to be effective and may produce collateral damage in some places.
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Vol. 54 • No. 7