Ecological - Second Order
Wildfire refugia are forest patches that are minimally-impacted by fire and provide critical habitats for fire-sensitive species and seed sources for post-fire forest regeneration. Wildfire refugia are relatively understudied, particularly concerning the impacts of subsequent fires on existing refugia. We opportunistically re-visited 122 sites classified in 1994 for a prior fire refugia study, which were burned by two wildfires in 2012 in the Cascade mountains of central Washington, USA. We evaluated the fire effects for historically persistent fire refugia and compared them to the surrounding non-refugial forest matrix. Of 122 total refugial (43 plots) and non-refugial (79 plots) sites sampled following the 2012 wildfires, one refugial and five non-refugial plots did not burn in 2012. Refugial sites burned more severely and experienced higher tree mortality than non-refugial plots, potentially due to the greater amount of time since the last fire, producing higher fuel accumulation. Although most sites maintained the pre-fire development stage, 19 percent of sites transitioned to Early development and 31 percent of sites converted from Closed to Open canopy. These structural transitions may contribute to forest restoration in fire-adapted forests where fire has been excluded for over a century, but this requires further analysis.