Effects of an intense prescribed forest fire

Is it ecological restoration?

Peter Z. Fulé, Allison E. Cocke, Thomas A. Heinlein, W. Wallace Covington

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

69 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Relatively intense burning has been suggested as a possible alternative to the restoration of pre-European settlement forest conditions and fire regime in mixed conifer forests, in contrast to thinning of trees and light prescribed burning. In 1993 a management-ignited fire in a dense, never-harvested forest in Grand Canyon National Park escaped prescription and burned with greater intensity and severity than anticipated. We sampled the burned site and an adjacent unburned site (270ha each) 6 years after the fire to assess burn effects on tree structure (species composition, size and age distributions, regeneration, and snags), forest floor fuels, and coarse woody debris. Tree structure before fire-regime disruption (1879 CE) was reconstructed with dendroecological techniques. By 6 years after burn the fire reduced average tree density (331 trees/ha) and basal area (28.5m2/ha to levels similar to pre-European reference conditions (approximately 246 trees/ha and 285m2/ha). Mortality was concentrated in fire-susceptible species, especially white fir, restoring dominance by fire-resistant ponderosa pine. Forest floor fuels were reduced, and regeneration by aspen and understory plants was vigorous. Densities of large snags and logs were high. However the fire also killed a high proportion of old-growth trees, especially aspen. Burning created more spatial variability in forest structure than was present before fire-regime disruption by killing many trees in some areas of the site but few in other areas. The intentional use of severe burning would be challenging to managers because of the increased risk of escaped fires, but the ecological outcome of this particular wildfire was not inconsistent with ecological restoration goals for this ecosystem type.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)220-230
Number of pages11
JournalRestoration Ecology
Volume12
Issue number2
DOIs
StatePublished - Jun 2004

Fingerprint

ecological restoration
forest fires
forest fire
fire regime
snags
forest litter
snag
forest floor
structure fires
regeneration
coarse woody debris
Pinus ponderosa
prescribed burning
canyons
mixed forests
Abies
wildfires
restoration
effect
thinning (plants)

Keywords

  • Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
  • Grand Canyon
  • Kaibab Plateau
  • Mixed conifer
  • North Rim
  • Ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology

Cite this

Effects of an intense prescribed forest fire : Is it ecological restoration? / Fulé, Peter Z.; Cocke, Allison E.; Heinlein, Thomas A.; Covington, W. Wallace.

In: Restoration Ecology, Vol. 12, No. 2, 06.2004, p. 220-230.

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

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