A new approach to evaluate forest structure restoration needs across Oregon and Washington

TitleA new approach to evaluate forest structure restoration needs across Oregon and Washington
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsHaugo, R
Secondary AuthorsZanger, C
Tertiary AuthorsDeMeo, T
Subsidiary AuthorsRingo, C, Shlisky, A, Blankenship, K, Simpson, M, Mellen-McLean, K, Kertis, J, Stern, M
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Start Page37
Date Published1/2015
KeywordsFire regime, restoration and hazardous fuel reduction, technical reports and journal articles

Widespread habitat degradation and uncharacteristic fire, insect, and disease outbreaks in forests across the western United States have led to highly publicized calls to increase the pace and scale of forest restoration. Despite these calls, we frequently lack a comprehensive understanding of forest restoration needs. In this study we demonstrate a new approach for evaluating where, how much, and what types of restoration are needed to move present day landscape scale forest structure towards a Natural Range of Variability (NRV) across eastern Washington, eastern Oregon, and southwestern Oregon. Our approach builds on the conceptual framework of the LANDFIRE and Fire Regime Condition Class programs. Washington–Oregon specific datasets are used to assess the need for changes to current forest structure resulting from disturbance and/or succession at watershed and regional scales.

Across our analysis region we found that changes in current structure would be needed on an estimated 4.7 million+ ha (40% of all coniferous forests) in order to restore forest structure approximating NRV at the landscape scale. Both the overall level and the type of restoration need varied greatly between forested biophysical settings. Regional restoration needs were dominated by the estimated 3.8+ million ha in need of thinning and/or low severity fire in forests that were historically maintained by frequent low or mixed severity fire (historical Fire Regime Group I and III biophysical settings). However, disturbance alone cannot restore NRV forest structure. We found that time to transition into later development structural classes through successional processes was required on approximately 3.2 million ha (over 25% of all coniferous forests). On an estimated 2.3 million ha we identified that disturbance followed by succession was required to restore NRV forest structure.

The results of this study are intended to facilitate the ability of local land managers to incorporate regional scale, multi-ownership context into local forest management and restoration. Meeting the region-wide restoration needs identified in this study will require a substantial increase in the pace and scale of restoration treatments and coordination amongst governments, agencies, and landowners.