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Historical analysis of burn windows for fire and fuels management: An example from the Lake Tahoe Basin
AuthorStriplin, Randell Lee
AdvisorMcAfee, Stephanie A
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In fire-adapted ecosystems of the western US, prescribed fire is an essential management tool used for restoration and fuel reduction, but a number of conditions must be met before the tool can be used in the field. To assess historical patterns of when prescribed burning was feasible, this study considered three of those conditions: 1) permission to burn as granted by air quality regulators, 2) weather within burn plan prescription, and 3) availability of sufficient operational and contingency resources. Our 18-year historical analysis (1999-2016) combines three independent datasets for a day-by-day comparison of when prescribed fires could have been implemented (henceforth ‘burn windows’) in the Lake Tahoe Basin (LTB) and analyzes seasonality, interannual variability, and trends. Not surprisingly, the fewest burn windows occurred during summer. Burn windows were most frequent during spring, followed by autumn. Burn windows lasting multiple days occurred infrequently. Two-three day burn windows never occurred more than twice per month on average. Longer periods were much rarer. Considerable interannual variation existed in monthly burn window frequency. Finally, a significant increase in burn windows was detected over the period of the study, but this was determined to be related to a methodological change by air quality regulators and not due to climate change. While this case study focuses on the LTB, the analysis was performed with common and readily available data and could be easily applied to other land management units. Results from this study demonstrate a valuable method for planning and prioritizing fire and fuels management activities.