Peat Surface Compression Reduces Smouldering Fire Potential as a Novel Fuel Treatment for Boreal Peatlands

P. Deane
S. Wilkinson
G. Verkaik
P. Moore
D. Schroeder
J. Waddington
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The wildfire regime in Canada’s boreal region is changing; extended fire seasons are characterized by more frequent large fires (≥200 ha) burning greater areas of land, whilst climate-mediated drying is increasing the vulnerability of peatlands to deep burning. Proactive management strategies, such as fuel modification treatments, are necessary to reduce fire danger at the wildland–human interface (WHI). Novel approaches to fuel management are especially needed in peatlands where deep smouldering combustion is a challenge to suppression efforts and releases harmful emissions. Here, we integrate surface compression within conventional stand treatments to examine the potential for reducing smouldering of near-surface moss and peat. A linear model (adj. R2 = 0.62, p = 2.2e−16) revealed that ground cover (F[2,101] = 60.97, p < 0.001) and compression (F[1,101] = 56.46, p < 0.001) had the greatest effects on smouldering potential, while stand treatment did not have a significant effect (F[3,101] = 0.44, p = 0.727). On average, compressed Sphagnum and feather moss plots showed 57.1% and 58.7% lower smouldering potential, respectively, when compared to uncompressed analogs. While practical evaluation is warranted to better understand the evolving effectiveness of this strategy, these findings demonstrate that a compression treatment can be successfully incorporated within both managed and unmanaged peatlands to reduce fire danger at the WHI.