ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – Reducing the risk of massive wildfires that burn out of control. Researchers at the University of New Mexico are attempting to do just that with a new study that focuses on forest management.

“On average we have quite high fire severity in the absence of any sort of management,” says Matthew Hurteau.

UNM Associate Biology Professor Matthew Hurteau has created a model that demonstrates the effects of thinning and prescribed burns in the Santa Fe Watershed.

“The goal of this work is to really think about, as we try to restore the fire process in the landscape, as we start to do that, how can we most efficiently allocate those resources?” Hurteau says.

The model shows the landscape after two different thinning and prescribed burn scenarios.

The first: “This is where all the thinning and burning treatments were implemented in this prioritized landscape, so that’s as much as a 40% to 80% reduction in fire severity compared to no management,” Hurteau says.

The second: “Basically reduce the area that gets mechanically treated thinned by about 54%, as long as we increased the area that was prescribed burned,” Hurteau says.

Under both scenarios, the occurrence of stand-replacing fire was reduced. Hurteau says the study was done using projected climate data and gives forest management agencies an idea of what changes they could make.

“It costs money to treat forests and how can we allocate those resources so we can bring natural fire back to these systems in a cost-effective manner,” Hurteau says.

The research has already been passed on to the Forest Service and the Santa Fe Watershed Association. Hurteau says they are doing similar research on the upper Rio Grande Watershed.