Long-Term Effects of Burn Season and Frequency on Ponderosa Pine Forest Fuels and Seedlings

TitleLong-Term Effects of Burn Season and Frequency on Ponderosa Pine Forest Fuels and Seedlings
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2017
AuthorsWestlind, DJ
Secondary AuthorsKerns, BK
JournalFire Ecology
Start Page42
KeywordsBlue Mountain Ecoregion, fire effects and fire ecology, fire regimes, fuel reduction, fuels and fuel treatments, re-entry burning, technical reports and journal articles

Prescribed fire is widely applied in western US forests to limit future fire severity by reducing tree density, fuels, and excessive seedlings. Repeated prescribed burning attempts to simulate historical fire regimes in frequent-fire forests, yet there is limited long-term information regarding optimal burn season and frequency. In addition, burns are operationally feasible only in the spring and late fall, largely outside the historical wildfire season. This study quantifies the effect of seasonal reburns on woody surface fuels, forest floor fuels, and understory tree regeneration abundance in six previously thinned ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) stands in the southern Blue Mountain Ecoregion of Oregon, USA. Each stand consisted of an unburned control, and four season by reburn treatments: spring 5 yr, spring 15 yr, fall 5 yr, and fall 15 yr. We evaluated season and frequency of reburn for woody surface fuel (1 hr to 1000 hr), forest floor fuel (litter and duff, undifferentiated), and understory conifer seedling density (regeneration). Burning was initiated in the fall of 1997 and spring of 1998; we present results in this paper through 2014 for fuel, and 2015 for seedlings. All reburn treatments reduced the forest floor depth compared to those areas not burned (controls). Fall burning, regardless of frequency, generated 1000 hr fuel primarily from overstory mortality resulting from the initial entry burns and subsequent snag and branch fall. But, for the other woody fuel types, reburning had minimal impact, regardless of season or frequency. All reburn treatments reduced regeneration survival, but 5 yr fall reburning was most effective in reducing excessive conifer seedlings. Repeated spring or fall reburns following thinning will reduce forest floor depth but, to achieve low woody fuel loads and control excessive conifer regeneration, it may be necessary to conduct reburns using different timing, such as during drier periods when wildfire ignitions by lightning occurred historically.