International Journal of Wildland Fire International Journal of Wildland Fire Society
Journal of the International Association of Wildland Fire
RESEARCH ARTICLE

Pre-wildfire fuel treatments affect long-term ponderosa pine forest dynamics

Barbara A. Strom A and Peter Z. Fulé A B
+ Author Affiliations
- Author Affiliations

A School of Forestry and Ecological Restoration Institute, Northern Arizona University, PO Box 15018, Flagstaff, AZ 86011, USA.

B Corresponding author. Email: pete.fule@nau.edu

International Journal of Wildland Fire 16(1) 128-138 https://doi.org/10.1071/WF06051
Published: 20 February 2007

Abstract

The 2002 Rodeo–Chediski fire, the largest wildfire in south-western USA history, burned over treated stands and adjacent untreated stands in the Apache–Sitgreaves National Forest, setting the stage for a natural experiment testing the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments under conditions of extraordinary fire severity. In seven pairs of treated–untreated study sites measured 2 years after the fire, thinning was strongly associated with reduced burn severity. Treated areas had more live trees, greater survival, and reduced fire intensity as indicated by crown base height and bole char. Ponderosa pine regeneration was patchy but more dense in treated areas. We assessed decade- to century-long effects of the pre-wildfire fuel treatments using the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FVS). Differences between treated and untreated areas were projected to persist for several decades after the fire in terms of stand structure characteristics and for at least 100 years in terms of species composition, with ponderosa pine making up ~60% of basal area in treated areas but only 35% in untreated areas. Future ecosystem development may take the trajectory of recovery to a ponderosa pine/Gambel oak forest or of a shift to an alternative stable state such as an oak-dominated shrubfield, with untreated areas more apt to undergo a shift to a shrubfield state. Current management decisions about fuel treatments have multi-century legacies.

Additional keywords: Arizona, Forest Vegetation Simulator, fuel reduction Rodeo–Chediski fire.


Acknowledgements

Thanks to Linda Wadleigh, Chad Hoffman, Gayle Richardson, and staff of the Apache–Sitgreaves National Forest for assistance in selecting the study sites and providing data on treatments and fire effects. Staff and students of the Ecological Restoration Institute supported field and laboratory work, especially Matt Tuten, Mark Daniels, and Amanda Kuenzi. Jim Youtz sparked interest in fuel treatment effects on fire behaviour during the Rodeo–Chediski burn. This research was supported by the USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Joint Venture Agreement #03-JV-11221615-153. Thanks to Carolyn Sieg and Carl Edminster. Two anonymous reviewers and an editor provided helpful comments.


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