U.S. Joint Fire Science Program


Date of this Version


Document Type



Fire Science Brief, Issue 73, October 2009


US government work.


A quantitative understanding of how forests work, both before and after (prescribed and wild) fire, is essential to management. Yet acquiring the kind of broad yet detailed information needed for many management decisions can be costly, tedious, and time-consuming. After two sweeping wildfi res in the Missouri River Breaks area of eastern Montana—the Indian and Germaine wildfi res—some researchers wanted to see whether it was possible to characterize both pre-fi re and post-fi re characteristics in a relatively inexpensive and effi cient way. Specifi cally, they wanted to know whether prescribed fire that is then followed by wildfire, is more likely to meet management objectives. Theresa Jain, a research forester at the Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, and her colleagues set out to do just that. After creating a careful plan, a small crew set off into the area, collected quick, but thorough data, and photographs. They were able to compare “pre burn” (untouched by fi re) areas, to areas that had been exposed to wildfire, prescribed fire, or both. They created summaries and handbooks for their results. Although the data are not statistically signifi cant, there is a trend in the region of this study suggesting that wildfi re after a prescribed burned is more effective at meeting management objectives than either wildfi re or prescribe fi re alone. The handbooks offer not only specific information on the region, but also serve as a handbook for managers and planners who want to do the same thing in a different region.