Fuel Treatments & Effects
Variable-retention harvesting in lodgepole pine offers an alternative to conventional, even-aged management. This harvesting technique promotes structural complexity and age-class diversity in residual stands and promotes resilience to disturbance. We examined fuel loads and potential fire behaviour 12 years after two modes of variable-retention harvesting (dispersed and aggregated retention patterns) crossed by post-harvest prescribed fire (burned or unburned) in central Montana. Results characterise 12-year post-treatment fuel loads. We found greater fuel load reduction in treated than untreated stands, namely in the 10- and 100-h classes (P = 0.002 and 0.049 respectively). Reductions in 1-h (P < 0.001), 10-h (P = 0.008) and 1000-h (P = 0.014) classes were greater in magnitude for unburned than burned treatments. Fire behaviour modelling incorporated the regenerating seedling cohort into the surface fuel complex. Our analysis indicates greater surface fireline intensity in treated than untreated stands (P < 0.001), and in unburned over burned stands (P = 0.001) in dry, windy weather. Although potential fire behaviour in treated stands is predicted to be more erratic, within-stand structural variability reduces probability of crown fire spread. Overall, results illustrate trade-offs between potential fire attributes that should be acknowledged with variable-retention harvesting.