July 14, 2022
Journal Article

Evaluating Basin-Scale Forest Adaptation Scenarios: Wildfire, Streamflow, Biomass, and Economic Recovery Synergies and Trade-Offs


Active forest management is applied in many parts of the western United States to reduce wildfire severity, mitigate vulnerability to drought and bark beetle mortality, and more recently, to increase snow retention and late-season streamflow. A rapidly warming climate accelerates the need for these restorative treatments, but the treatment priority among forest patches varies considerably. We simulated four treatment scenarios across the 3,450 km2 Wenatchee River basin in eastern Washington, United States. We used a decision support tool (DST) to assess trade-offs and synergies within and among treatments on wildfire risk and smoke emissions, water yield and snow retention, biomass production, and economic return. Treatment scenarios emphasized prescribed burning (BurnOnly), biomass production (MaxBiomass), gap-based thinning to optimize water yield (IdealWater), and a principle-based restoration scenario (RA1). Fire hazard, smoke emissions, and biomass production metrics were evaluated across scenarios using the Forest Vegetation Simulator, and water yields were modeled using the Distributed Hydrology Soil Vegetation Model. Simulations were summarized to both patch- (101–102 ha) and subwatershed- (103–104 ha) scales, and treatment effects were evaluated against an untreated baseline landscape. We used logic models to rank effect sizes by scenario across metrics along a continuum between -1 (no or weak effect) to +1 (large effect). All treatments produced benefits across one or more ecosystem services and led to synergistic benefits to water yield and wildfire hazard reduction. Tradeoffs among resource benefits were clear in wilderness where reliance on prescribed burning without mechanical treatment increased costs and eliminated the potential for biomass recovery. The BurnOnly scenario improved fire risk metrics and streamflow, but effect sizes were lower compared to other treatments. IdealWater showed the strongest benefits overall, demonstrating the ability to capture multiple resource benefits through spatially explicit thinning. Our study provides a framework for integrating strategic and tactical models that evaluate tradeoffs and synergies gained through varied management approaches. We demonstrate the utility of decision support modeling to enhance management synergies across large landscapes.

Published: July 14, 2022


Povak N., T.J. Furniss, P.F. Hessburg, B. Salter, M.S. Wigmosta, Z. Duan, and M. Lefevre. 2022. Evaluating Basin-Scale Forest Adaptation Scenarios: Wildfire, Streamflow, Biomass, and Economic Recovery Synergies and Trade-Offs. Frontiers in Forests and Global Change 5. PNNL-SA-173420. doi:10.3389/ffgc.2022.805179