. "Part Three: Major Policy and Program Level Issues Across the Landscape--5 Changing Conditions of the Forest." Forested Landscapes in Perspective: Prospects and Opportunities for Sustainable Management of America's Nonfederal Forests. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 1998.
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and complex living vegetation structures, such as large older trees, have potentially negative consequences for some wildlife, especially specialist insectivores (Maser 1994). These reductions also decrease the long-term nutrient and organic-matter (carbon) storage of forest sites.
From 1990 through 1996, approximately 1.7 million acres of state and private forest and rangeland burned each year in the United States. Wildfires in nonfederal forests can result in immediate catastrophic losses, including loss of timber, wildlife habitat, recreational opportunities, and aesthetic values of land. Although the total area burned by wildfire has declined nationwide during this century, that statistic masks disturbing trends: the total area burned is increasing in the West, and the average severity of these fires is increasing (Agee 1993). Long-term wildfire trends are difficult to predict because of potential changes in climate, particularly altered patterns of precipitation.
Management of fire is paradoxical: long-term protection of resources through fire suppression results in fuel accumulation and associated risks to resources because the wildfires that do occur are more severe (Brown and Arno 1991). Many forest types evolved with wildfire as a natural periodic disturbance, and those types, sometimes called fire-dependent forests, benefit from the use of fire as well as its control. Fire should be recognized as an important ecological process to maintain the diversity and productivity of wildlands. It can be used as an effective management tool to maintain fuel loads at manageable levels, particularly in ecosystems where fire was historically frequent and low in intensity. Trade-offs between prescribed fire smoke and wildfire smoke might be necessary to defend prescribed burning because of the air-quality effects. In addition, proposed changes in EPA air-quality standards at the national level to restrict fine particulates (less than 2.5 micrograms) could have a major impact on open burning because much of the smoke produced by prescribed fires contains particles within this range. Strategies for managing fire effectively are expensive and require substantial technical assistance. Because the costs of mistakes can be high in terms of property and lives lost, fire management likely will be used more by large nonfederal-forest landowners, such as tribal landowners or cooperatives of private or public landowners, than by small nonindustrial-forest landowners.
Fire at the wildland and urban interface, defined as the zone, area, or line where structures and other human development meet or intermingle with undeveloped wildland or vegetative fuels (SAF 1990), will be a critical issue on nonfederal forestlands. Residents of these areas, which are located across all parts of the United States, benefit from a close association with wildlands, but also face the potentially substantial costs of property damage from wildfires. Such fires can move from residential communities into surrounding wildlands or from wildlands to intermingled residences. The problem is growing for two