Fuel Treatments & Effects
Mechanical fuel treatments are a primary pre-fire strategy for potentially mitigating the threat of wildland fire, yet there is limited information on how they impact shrubland ecosystems. Our goal was to assess the impact of mechanical mastication fuel treatments on chaparral vegetation and to determine the extent to which they emulate early post-fire succession. Mastication treatments significantly reduced the height and cover of woody vegetation and increased herbaceous cover and diversity. Non-native cover, density, and diversity were also significantly higher in masticated treatments. Comparisons with postfire data from two studies showed that certain ephemeral post-fire endemics were absent or of limited occurrence from masticated plots in comparison to their abundance on adjacent burned plots. Structurally, masticated sites differed in the dense woody debris cover, whereas burned sites had little such ground cover. Regional comparison of masticated plots to previously published post-fire studies found that burned sites had greater cover, density, and diversity of native species. However, masticated sites and burned sites were broadly similar in distribution of different growth forms. Results from our study show that the use of mastication fuel treatments in chaparral are not in alignment with some resource conservation goals, but in some cases it is recognized that such sacrifice of natural resources may be an acceptable tradeoff to potentially mitigating fire hazard.