Ecological - Second Order
Recovery after fire
Thirty years ago the effects of timber harvest, prescribed burning, and wildfire were investigated in a western larch/Douglas-fir forest on the Flathead National Forest in western Montana. The original study was designed to investigate the effects of prescribed burning on soil physical and biological properties, and on subsequent stand establishment and growth. Sixty 4-hectare units on different aspects representing 2 habitat type phases, Menziesia ferruginea (MEFE) and Xerophyllum tenax (XETE), were harvested from January 1967 January 1968. Prescribed burns of various intensities took place in July, August, and October 1967 and May-October 1968. A wildfire burned several areas in August 1967, providing an additional treatment. Subsequent research documented short-term fire effects on small mammal populations, soil chemical and physical properties, soil erosion, water quality, plant succession, and conifer regeneration. In 1995 we resampled the original plots with the goal of comparing present soil and stand conditions to those 30 years earlier. The topics addressed were: (1) changes in soil and forest floor organic matter, (2) the effects of those soil changes on stand development, and (3) a comparison of the above- and belowground conditions in harvested sites with those in adjacent old-growth stands. This paper presents an overview of impacts from both prescribed fire and wildfire on the plant communities of this western forest ecosystem after 30 years. Shrubs represented a larger plant component than forbs, grasses, or mosses, and reflected fire response with frequent occurrence of species that establish well after fire or are resistant to fire. The XETE habitat type phase treatments occur on dry south- and west-facing slopes and have a richer tree species mix than do the cooler east- and north-facing slopes in the MEFE phase treatments. © 2000, Tall Timbers Research, Inc. Abstract reproduced by permission.