Making forest restoration a little easier

Granite Fire low intensity fire effects. Photo by Rich Fairbanks.

Within the United States, thousands of acres of forests are in various stages of degradation. These forests need restoration work, such as projects that thin thick, overgrown forests to restore their natural fire cycles. But, when so many degraded forest lands exist, land managers, with limited resources and funding, need a way to prioritize restoration projects. This is where Wilderness Society forest ecologists come in. Recently, our ecologists developed a tool that helps identify areas for restoration at the forest, district and watershed level.

How does it work?

The tool uses a geographic information system (GIS) supplied with Forest Service data layers and provides a gradient of possible candidate forest stands across a given area that are ranked from low to high priority.

Click here to see a video demonstration of the tool. In one hypothetical case, the tool was used to identify forest stands that need mechanical thinning or prescribed fire in order to restore the natural fire regime in those areas. Viewers looked at 33,000 acres of forest and used the tool to eliminate areas based on the fire frequency, size, access to roads, etc.. In the end, they were able to narrow potential restoration areas down to 3,300 acres.

On the ground application

Montana’s Southwest Crown of the Continent Collaborative and Idaho’s Clearwater Basin Collaborative have both taken advantage of this unique capacity that The Wilderness Society brings to local efforts on the ground. By eliminating obvious non-candidates for certain types of restoration treatments, these groups are able to consider only a manageable and informed subset of potential opportunities for restoration treatments.

For more information on our tool’s application to real landscape and action on the ground, please visit: The intent of this prioritization tool is not to select any individual stand for restoration, but to serve as an informative, transparent and coherent means of identifying candidate stands for restoration.

photo: Granite Fire low intensity fire effects. Photo by Rich Fairbanks.