Prescribed fire is an important tool for fuel reduction, the control of competing vegetation, and forest restoration. The accumulated fuels associated with historical fire exclusion can cause undesirably high tree mortality rates following prescribed fires and wildfires. This is especially true for sugar pine (Pinus lambertiana Douglas), which is already negatively affected by the introduced pathogen white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola J.C. Fisch. ex Rabenh). We tested the efficacy of raking away fuels around the base of sugar pine to reduce mortality following prescribed fire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon national parks, California, USA. This study was conducted in three prescribed fires and included 457 trees, half of which had the fuels around their bases raked away to mineral soil to 0.5 m away from the stem. Fire effects were assessed and tree mortality was recorded for three years after prescribed fires. Overall, raking had no detectable effect on mortality: raked trees averaged 30% mortality compared to 36% for unraked trees. There was a significant effect, however, between the interaction of raking and average pre-treatment forest floor fuel depth: the predicted probability of survival of a 50 cm dbh tree was 0.94 vs. 0.96 when average pre-treatment fuel depth was 0 cm for a raked and unraked tree, respectively. When average pre-treatment forest floor fuel depth was 30 cm, the predicted probability of survival for a raked 50 cm dbh tree was 0.60 compared to only 0.07 for an unraked tree. Raking did not affect mortality when fire intensity, measured as percent crown volume scorched, was very low (0% scorch) or very high (>80% scorch), but the raking treatment significantly increased the proportion of trees that survived by 9.6% for trees that burned under moderate fire intensity (1% to 80% scorch). Raking significantly reduced the likelihood of bole charring and bark beetle activity three years post fire. Fuel depth and anticipated fire intensity need to be accounted for to maximize the effectiveness of the treatments. Raking is an important management option to reduce tree mortality from prescribed fire, but is most effective under specific fuel and burning conditions.
Additional publication details
The effects of raking on sugar pine mortality following prescribed fire in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California, USA