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Goal: Apply Knowledge Globally Role of mechanization in fire risk reduction and application

Mulcher digging a fireline
Mulcher beginning fireline installation near Fayette, AL. (Forest Service photo by Mathew Smidt)


Fire and fire surrogate treatments are critical tools in management, restoration, and risk control across a wide variety of forested ecosystems. Reducing hazardous fuels mechanically could lower costs and increase productivity, allowing for huge increases in the amount of land that can be treated either with prescribed fire or a surrogate. Understanding conditions where mechanization can be successfully applied is key to its adoption.


Hazardous fuels can be mitigated mechanically. Mechanical fuel reduction can involve removing fuels by harvesting and masticating fuels with mulchers. Balancing the costs with the potential for improvement is key for landowners and managers. This research identified the general ranges of productivity and costs for most potential mechanized fuel reduction treatments. In addition, researchers examined how specific site conditions might affect operations. The study also addressed key aspects of production measurement and costing that are important to decision-makers.

Mulching biomass can change fire risk and nature of the fire. We explored the use of mulchers to produce firelines, because this application could increase the utility of mulching machines and decrease labor demand. Firelines are typically installed by hand crews in rough terrain. In more gentle terrain, slow-moving bulldozers are used. Firelines are critical to using prescribed fire as well as suppressing dangerous wildfires.

Researchers tested wheeled mulchers on relatively gentle terrain in the southern U.S. Mulching machines were able to produce firelines that were likely to be cost competitive with dozers. The results build on earlier work that identified the potential for tracked machines in rough terrain in the West. Mulching applications can be used across many forest types and, due to the speed of the application, may be useful in fire suppression in the wildland urban interface.

Principal Investigators
Dana Mitchell, Project Leader
Mathew Smidt, Research Forester/Engineer
4703 - Forest Operations
Strategic Program Area
Resource Management and Use
Research Partners
Auburn University School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences
External Partner
Caterpillar Corporation