The influence of thinning and prescribed burning on future forest fires in fire-prone regions of Europe

Figure 4 from Rabin et al. (2022): Mean annual fireline intensity in kilowatts per meter for each management averaged over the period 2080–2100 in Iberia and Eastern Europe under RCP 2.6 and 8.5 Prescribed burning and thinning both reduce fireline intensity. Prescribed burning and thinning both reduce fireline intensity.


Climate change is expected to increase fire risk in many forested regions, posing a potential threat to forest functioning (i.e., carbon pools and fluxes). At the same time, expansion of the wildland-urban interface threatens to bring ever more people, property, and infrastructure into contact with wildfire events. It is critical that fire be managed in a way that minimizes risk to human health and well-being and maintains forest climate change mitigation potential without affecting the important ecological role fire plays in many ecosystems. Dynamic global vegetation models (DGVMs) simulate processes over large geographic regions and long time periods, and could provide information that supports fire and fuel management programs by assessing performance of such measures under different climate change scenarios. However, thus far DGVMs have not been put to this use. In this work, we introduce a novel prescribed burning module to the LPJ-GUESS DGVM. Focusing on two regions (Eastern Europe and the Iberian Peninsula), we compare the effects of prescribed burning and mechanical thinning on various aspects of the fire regime and ecosystem under two climate change scenarios through the end of the 21st century. We find that prescribed burning and thinning, by reducing fuel load, reduce fireline intensity; this suggests that what wildfires do occur could be more easily controlled. While this would reduce risks to human health and well-being, prescribed burning comes with the tradeoff of increased fire emissions, which could contribute to respiratory problems. Mechanical thinning reduces fireline intensity by as much or more while also reducing emissions. While net primary production remained unaffected by fire management, cumulative net biome production through the end of the 21st century was reduced, especially under thinning. While these results are based on stylized management treatments, this work shows the potential of DGVMs in exploring fire management options.