A comparison of effects from prescribed fires and wildfires managed for resource objectives in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Current goals for prescription burning are focused on measures of fuel consumption and changes in forest density. These benchmarks, however, do not address the extent to which prescription burning meets perceived ecosystem needs of heterogeneity in burning, both for overstory trees and understory herbs and shrubs. There are still questions about how closely prescribed fires mimic these patterns compared to natural wildfires. This study compared burn patterns of prescribed fires and managed unplanned wildfires to understand how the differing burning regimes affect ecosystem properties. Measures of forest structure and fire severity were sampled in three recent prescribed fires and three wildfires managed for resource objectives in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Fine scale patterns of fire severity and heterogeneity were compared between fire types using ground-based measures of fire effects on fuels and overstory and understory vegetation. Prescribed fires and wildfires managed for resource objectives displayed similar patterns of overstory and understory fire severity, heterogeneity, and seedling and sapling survival. Variation among plots within the same fire was always greater than between fire types. Prescribed fires can provide burned landscapes that approximate natural fires in many ways. It is recognized that constraints placed on when wildfires managed for resource objectives are allowed to burn freely may bias the range of conditions that might have been experienced under more natural conditions. Therefore they may not exactly mimic natural wildfires. Overall, the similarity in fire effects that we observed between prescribed fires and managed wildfires indicate that despite the restrictions that are often placed on prescribed fires, they appear to be creating post-fire conditions that approximate natural fires when assessed on a fine spatial scale.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title A comparison of effects from prescribed fires and wildfires managed for resource objectives in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
Volume 261
Issue 7
Year Published 2011
Language English
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 8 p.
Larger Work Type Article
Larger Work Subtype Journal Article
Larger Work Title Forest Ecology and Management
First page 1275
Last page 1282
Country United States