Fire exclusion has led to an unnatural accumulation and greater spatial continuity of organic material on the ground in many forests. This material serves both as potential fuel for forest fires and habitat for a large array of forest species. Managers must balance fuel reduction to reduce wildfire hazard with fuel retention targets to maintain other forest functions. This study reports fuel consumption and changes to coarse woody debris attributes with prescribed burns ignited under different fuel moisture conditions. Replicated early season burn, late season burn, and unburned control plots were established in old-growth mixed conifer forest in Sequoia National Park that had not experienced fire for more than 120 years. Early season burns were ignited during June 2002 when fuels were relatively moist, and late season burns were ignited during September/October 2001 when fuels were dry. Fuel loading and coarse woody debris abundance, cover, volume, and mass were evaluated prior to and after the burns. While both types of burns reduced fuel loading, early season burns consumed significantly less of the total dead and down organic matter than late season burns (67% versus 88%). This difference in fuel consumption between burning treatments was significant for most all woody fuel components evaluated, plus the litter and duff layers. Many logs were not entirely consumed - therefore the number of logs was not significantly changed by fire - but burning did reduce log length, cover, volume, and mass. Log cover, volume, and mass were reduced to a lesser extent by early season burns than late season burns, as a result of higher wood moisture levels. Early season burns also spread over less of the ground surface within the burn perimeter (73%) than late season burns (88%), and were significantly patchier. Organic material remaining after a fire can dam sediments and reduce erosion, while unburned patches may help mitigate the impact of fire on fire-sensitive species by creating refugia from which these species can recolonize burned areas. Early season burns may be an effective means of moderating potential ecosystem damage when treating heavy and/or continuous fuels resulting from long periods of fire exclusion, if burning during this season is not detrimental to other forest functions. ?? 2005 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
Additional publication details
Fuel reduction and coarse woody debris dynamics with early season and late season prescribed fire in a Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest