Repeated fall prescribed fire in previously thinned Pinus ponderosa increases growth and resistance to other disturbances

TitleRepeated fall prescribed fire in previously thinned Pinus ponderosa increases growth and resistance to other disturbances
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2021
AuthorsWestlind, DJ, Kerns, BK
JournalForest Ecology and Management
KeywordsBlack stain root disease, Pine butterfly, ponderosa pine, tecnical reports and journal articles

In western North America beginning in the late 19th century, fire suppression and other factors resulted in dense
ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests that are now prone to high severity wildfire, insect attack, and root
diseases. Thinning and prescribed fire are commonly used to remove small trees, fire-intolerant tree species, and
shrubs, and to reduce surface and aerial fuels. These treatments can be effective at lowering future fire severity,
but prescribed burns must be periodically repeated to maintain favorable conditions and are feasible only outside
the historical summer wildfire season. This study examines tree growth and mortality associated with spring and
fall burning repeated at five (5 yr) and fifteen-year (15 yr) intervals in six previously thinned ponderosa pine
stands in the southern Blue Mountain Ecoregion near Burns, Oregon, USA. Each stand consisted of an unburned
control, and four season-by-burn interval treatments: spring 5 yr, spring 15 yr, fall 5 yr, and fall 15 yr. Burning
was initiated in fall 1997 and spring 1998. Pine height and diameter growth was evaluated in 2013, 15 years
following initial treatment. Mortality was assessed annually from 2002 to 2017, when these stands experienced
severe defoliation from pine butterfly (PB, Neophasia menapia), followed by a moderate outbreak of western pine
beetle (WPB, Dendroctonus brevicomis), allowing us to examine resistance to these disturbances. Pine in the 5 yr
fall treatments added more diameter than spring 15 yr and marginally more than spring 5 yr, while fall 15 yr
added marginally more diameter than spring 15 yr. In addition, the fall 5 yr treatments had lower mortality
associated with prescribed fire, PB, WPB, Ips spp., red turpentine beetle (RTB, D. valens), and mountain pine
beetle (MPB, D. ponderosae), but the effect was not always significant. Annosus root disease (ARD, caused by
Heterobasidion irregulare) and black stain root disease (BSRD, caused by Leptographium wagneri var. ponderosum)
appear to be unaffected by burning. However, BSRD occurrence dramatically declined in all treatments, probably
a result of thinning prior to study initiation. Results from this study demonstrate that repeated fall burning,
especially at 5-year intervals, improves ponderosa pine diameter growth and may provide resistance to future
biotic and abiotic disturbances while spring burning, regardless of frequency, does not.