What are hazardous fuels?
In the South, the concept of hazardous fuels is influenced more by human activities and concern over property protection than actual fuel levels. Humans are the cause of most wildfires, with arson and debris burning being the main sources. Furthermore, nearly all loblolly pine forests will support a wildfire, with fuel levels and weather largely determining of fire severity. Therefore, the risk of wildfire occurring in a forest is mostly dependent on human activity outside of the forest (e.g. campers or homeowners burning yard wastes) rather than actual fuel levels. In addition, given the population density of some areas and the human-caused nature of fire ignitions, wildfires in the South are often situated near buildings and roads, can cause a large amount of property damage, and may result in human injury. Finally, since the population in many parts of the South is rapidly increasing, the danger to people has to be considered not only in terms of existing homes and infrastructure, but also expected future development. Therefore, a practical definition of hazardous fuels in loblolly pine forests is dense under- and midstories and accumulated wood that could threaten the loblolly pine overstory and are found in forests where there is a high risk of human-caused ignition and a subsequent fire could threaten property outside of the forest. If a land manager decides that a forest does represent hazardous fuels, a number of techniques might be used to treat it, including prescribed burning, mechanical treatments (e.g. mulching or chipping), or herbicide applications.
The guide is intended to serve as a general overview of hazardous fuels in loblolly pine forests as well as a reference source on different fuel management treatments, although it is not intended to be a manual on treatments. Rather, information is provided to allow readers to understand which treatment options are feasible, what the approximate expected costs would be, and how treatments may affect fuels and non-fuel factors such as soil, water quality, and wildlife. Readers are given enough information to decide what options should be explored in greater detail through other publications or professionals.
Since Southern fuel management operations are rarely documented, the guide relies heavily on anecdotal information in addition to published works. While some land managers informally exchange information on such operations, many are not familiar with previous operations and what was learned. This lack of documentation and limited information exchange was a major incentive for the development of this guides and during its development, various private and public land managers were interviewed about their fuel management techniques and experiences, with an emphasis on finding new or more effective ways of dealing with fuels as well as identifying operational issues that may not be obvious (e.g. contract terms, soils).