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Quantifying Ladder Fuels: A New Approach Using LiDAR

  • Author(s): Kramer, Heather
  • Collins, Brandon
  • Kelly, Maggi
  • Stephens, Scott
  • et al.

Published Web Location

http://www.mdpi.com/1999-4907/5/6/1432
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Abstract

We investigated the relationship between LiDAR and ladder fuels in the northern Sierra Nevada, California USA. Ladder fuels are often targeted in hazardous fuel reduction treatments due to their role in propagating fire from the forest floor to tree crowns. Despite their importance, ladder fuels are difficult to quantify. One common approach is to calculate canopy base height, but this has many potential sources of error. LiDAR may be a way forward to better characterize ladder fuels, but has only been used to address this question peripherally and in only a few instances. After establishing that landscape fuel treatments reduced canopy and ladder fuels at our site, we tested which LiDAR-derived metrics best differentiated treated from untreated areas. The percent cover between 2 and 4 m had the most explanatory power to distinguish treated from untreated pixels across a range of spatial scales. When compared to independent plot-based measures of ladder fuel classes, this metric differentiated between high and low levels of ladder fuels. These findings point to several immediate applications for land managers and suggest new avenues of study that could lead to possible improvements in the way that we model wildfire behavior across forested landscapes in the US.

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