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Landscape composition in aspen woodlands under various modeled fire regimes

Author(s): Eva K. Strand, Stephen C. Bunting, Lee A. Vierling
Year Published: 2012

Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides) is declining across the western United States. Aspen habitats are diverse plant communities in this region and loss of these habitats can cause shifts in biodiversity, productivity, and hydrology across spatial scales. Western aspen occurs on the majority of sites seral to conifer species, and long-term maintenance of these aspen woodlands requires periodic fire. We use field data, remotely sensed data, and fire atlas information to develop a spatially explicit landscape simulation model to assess the effects of current and historic wildfire regimes and prescribed burning programs on landscape vegetation composition in the Owyhee Mountains, Idaho. The model is run in the Tool for Exploratory Landscape Scenario Analyses (TELSA) environment. Model outputs depict the future structural makeup and species composition of the landscape at selected time steps under simulated management scenarios. Under current fire regimes and in the absence of management activities, loss of seral aspen stands will continue to occur. However, a return to historic fire regimes, burning 12-14 percent of the modeled landscape per decade, maintains the majority of aspen stands in early and mid seral woodland stages and minimizes the loss of aspen. A fire rotation of 70-80 years was estimated for the historic fire regime while the current fire regime resulted in a fire rotation of 340-450 years. Implementation of prescribed burning programs, treating aspen and young conifer woodlands according to historic fire occurrence probabilities, are predicted to prevent conifer dominance and loss of aspen stands.

Citation: Strand, Eva K.; Bunting, Stephen C.; Vierling, Lee A. 2012. Landscape composition in aspen woodlands under various modeled fire regimes. In: Kerns, Becky K.; Shlisky, Ayn J.; Daniel, Colin J., tech. eds. Proceedings of the 1st Landscape State-and-Transition Simulation Modeling Conference; 2011 June 14-16; Portland, OR. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-869. Portland, OR: USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. p. 197-215.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Plants
Ecosystem(s): Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Aspen woodland, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna, Juniper woodland, Mountain shrubland/wooded draw, Sagebrush steppe
Document Type: Conference Proceedings
NRFSN number: 12114
FRAMES RCS number: 13837
Record updated: Jan 17, 2018