Fuel Break

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"Fuel break" regulations designed to prevent the spread of forest fires sometimes require that trees near valuable assets such as dwellings be separated by some specified distance. This Demonstration simulates the issues faced by landowners in complying with these regulations. You select a "forest" of circular trees, each of which has radii and "value." Forests with higher indices are more dense. You can cut a tree at a user-determined cost by clicking near it; you can also plant trees with user-selectable radii and net value (value less planting costs) by clicking away from existing trees. The Demonstration's display shows the forest and, if you choose, the radii of required distances, the tree pairs that violate regulations, and the value of each tree. You can determine how far apart trees are required to be and whether the measurement of distance is tree center to tree center or whether it is the distance between the exteriors of each tree. The idea is for you to chop down the set of trees and plant new trees that maximize value, less tree-cutting costs, while complying with fuel break regulations. You can also consider whether there is an algorithmic method for this process that could be readily followed in practice.

Contributed by: Seth J. Chandler (March 2011)
Open content licensed under CC BY-NC-SA


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