Understanding mastication and how it affects forest healthPosted on July 12, 2021 By AFE
Understanding mastication and how it affects forest health.
Mastication is a fuel reduction treatment method used in forestry management to reduce wildfire risk, to reduce fuel loadings by returning the forest to natural conditions. Masticating fuels, or mulching the forest, involves the reduction of vegetation into small chunks and is one of the many ways overstocked forest are thin out. To reduce the risk of rapid wildfire spread across land, we must also reduce the size of forest vegetation, open the forest floor, and minimize or remove forest fuels. Forest fuels are one of the primary reasons why forest fires result in catastrophic burning of land and nearby homes. Any combustible biomass in the forest is forest fuel. There are 3 types of forest fuels: fine fuels, crown fuels, and ladder fuels. Fine fuels are typically needles, dry grasses, and twigs. Of course, larger branches and logs on the forest floor can also server as fuels. Crown fuels are typically found in tree canopies and ladder fuels are arrange vertically.
The advantages include opening the canopy and forest floor which provides the remaining trees access to more nutrients, sunlight, and water. When trees are crowded together, they are in competition for sunlight and water. As a result, they tend to be less healthy. Mastication can assist in removing some trees in the early stages, to allow the remaining trees to grow faster, stronger, and larger. Over the past decade, Forest mastication methods have dramatically reduced wildfire hazards and greatly improved forest health.
Mastication as a fuel reduction method
A wide variety of manual and mechanical methods are used to reduce hazardous fuels on forest property. Chipping, mechanical piling, crushing and mastication are frequently used forest treatment methods. Mastication treatment utilizes several different types of equipment to grind, chip, or break apart fuels such as brush, small trees, and slash into small pieces. By masticating fuels, we reduce the potential for catastrophic wildfires by reducing ladder fuels and creating a gap between surface fuels and crown fuels. Mastication may be used as a stand-alone treatment or an alternative treatment prior to prescribed burning.
Removing and reducing the amount of forest fuels typically involves a combination of fuel treatments, but the most common and least disturbing to the natural soil is called forest mastication. In some cases, mastication can also be referred to as mulching and is also a form of vegetation management. Removing forest fuels by mastication is important because it reduces the threat of catastrophic wildfire and if wildfire were to occur, prior mastication will greatly reduce the damage and severity of the fire, thus protecting property and homes in nearby areas.
What are the benefits of forest mastication?
The main benefits of forest mastication include improvement of forest health, wildfire reduction, and improving the wildlife habitats in these environments. By removing shrubs or trees that are overcrowding the forest, the remaining trees will no longer need to compete for soil and nutrients, and shrubs near the ground will have more direct access to sunlight. If using a mastication method, its advantage over other land clearing methods is that soil can be left almost intact and will not uproot roots or pose a threat to natural soil in the area.
Forest mastication also aids in the creation of communities that are better equipped to fight and be protected from forest wildfires. By minimizing the combustible biomasses, mastication greatly reduces the chances that wildfires will result in catastrophic or life-threatening events. Fuel treatments such as mastication will also promote the growth of fire-resistant tree species, which in turn also protects the wildlife that resides along the forest floor and in the trees.
When is forest mastication necessary?
Forest mastication is best recommended in forest areas that are overcrowded, have no clear land space, and where tree density is considered unsafe. If biomass is created by natural causes and there is more than 100 acres or stems that need to be removed, forest mastication is recommended. In addition, forest mastication is also recommended where there is an overcrowding of the vegetation at the ground level and if the remaining standing trees are not fire resistant. In most cases, tree removal may be the simplest way to protect the forest and nearby homes. By creating fuel breaks, or forest land clear of fuels, surrounding residential homes will be able to attain a safer defensible space.
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