Latent resilience in ponderosa pine forest: effects of resumed frequent fire

TitleLatent resilience in ponderosa pine forest: effects of resumed frequent fire
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2013
AuthorsLarson, AJ, Belote, TR, Cansler, AC, Parks, SA, Dietz, MS
JournalEcological Applications
Start Page1243
Date Published09/2013
Keywordsfire effects, fire effects and fire ecology, fire exclusion, mixed-severity fire, technical reports and journal articles

Ecological systems often exhibit resilient states that are maintained through negative feedbacks. In ponderosa pine forests, fire historically represented the negative feedback mechanism that maintained ecosystem resilience; fire exclusion reduced that resilience, predisposing the transition to an alternative ecosystem state upon reintroduction of fire. We evaluated the effects of reintroduced frequent wildfire in unlogged, fire-excluded, ponderosa pine forest in the Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana, USA. Initial reintroduction of fire in 2003 reduced tree density and consumed surface fuels, but also stimulated establishment of a dense cohort of lodgepole pine, maintaining a trajectory toward an alternative state. Resumption of a frequent fire regime by a second fire in 2011 restored a lowdensity forest dominated by large-diameter ponderosa pine by eliminating many regenerating lodgepole pines and by continuing to remove surface fuels and small-diameter lodgepole pine and Douglas-fir that established during the fire suppression era. Our data demonstrate that some unlogged, fire-excluded, ponderosa pine forests possess latent resilience to reintroduced fire. A passive model of simply allowing lightning-ignited fires to burn appears to be a viable approach to restoration of such forests.