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

Year of Publication
2021
Publication Type
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.
Authors
D.J. Westlind; B.K. Kerns
Citation
Westlind DJ, Kerns BK. Repeated fall prescribed fire in previously thinned Pinus ponderosa increases growth and resistance to other disturbances. Forest Ecology and Management [Internet]. 2021 ;480. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foreco.2020.118645