Duration of fuels reduction following prescribed fire in coniferous forests of U.S. national parks in California and the Colorado Plateau

Forest Ecology and Management
By: , and 

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Abstract

Prescribed fire is a widely used forest management tool, yet the long-term effectiveness of prescribed fire in reducing fuels and fire hazards in many vegetation types is not well documented. We assessed the magnitude and duration of reductions in surface fuels and modeled fire hazards in coniferous forests across nine U.S. national parks in California and the Colorado Plateau. We used observations from a prescribed fire effects monitoring program that feature standard forest and surface fuels inventories conducted pre-fire, immediately following an initial (first-entry) prescribed fire and at varying intervals up to >20 years post-fire. A subset of these plots was subjected to prescribed fire again (second-entry) with continued monitoring. Prescribed fire effects were highly variable among plots, but we found on average first-entry fires resulted in a significant post-fire reduction in surface fuels, with litter and duff fuels not returning to pre-fire levels over the length of our observations. Fine and coarse woody fuels often took a decade or longer to return to pre-fire levels. For second-entry fires we found continued fuels reductions, without strong evidence of fuel loads returning to levels observed immediately prior to second-entry fire. Following both first- and second-entry fire there were increases in estimated canopy base heights, along with reductions in estimated canopy bulk density and modeled flame lengths. We did not find evidence of return to pre-fire conditions during our observation intervals for these measures of fire hazard. Our results show that prescribed fire can be a valuable tool to reduce fire hazards and, depending on forest conditions and the measurement used, reductions in fire hazard can last for decades. Second-entry prescribed fire appeared to reinforce the reduction in fuels and fire hazard from first-entry fires.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title Duration of fuels reduction following prescribed fire in coniferous forests of U.S. national parks in California and the Colorado Plateau
Series title Forest Ecology and Management
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2016.07.028
Volume 379
Year Published 2016
Language English
Publisher Elsevier
Contributing office(s) Western Ecological Research Center
Description 8 p.
First page 265
Last page 272