Fuel Treatments & Effects
Naturally-ignited Fire-use treatments
Background Fuel treatments are widely used to alter fuels in forested ecosystems to mitigate wildfire behavior and effects. However, few studies have examined long-term ecological effects of interacting fuel treatments (commercial harvests, pre-commercial thinnings, pile and burning, and prescribed fire) and wildfire. Using annually fitted Landsat satellite-derived Normalized Burn Ratio (NBR) curves and paired pre-fire treated and untreated field sites, we tested changes in the differenced NBR (dNBR) and years since treatment as predictors of biophysical attributes one and nine years after the 2007 Egley Fire Complex in Oregon, USA. We also assessed short- and long-term fuel treatment impacts on field-measured attributes one and nine years post fire.
Results: One-year post-fire burn severity (dNBR) was lower in treated than in untreated sites across the Egley Fire Complex. Annual NBR trends showed that treated sites nearly recovered to pre-fire values four years post fire, while untreated sites had a slower recovery rate. Time since treatment and dNBR significantly predicted tree canopy and understory green vegetation cover in 2008, suggesting that tree canopy and understory vegetation cover increased in areas that were treated recently pre fire. Live tree density was more affected by severity than by pre-fire treatment in either year, as was dead tree density one year post fire. In 2008, neither treatment nor severity affected percent cover of functional groups (shrub, graminoid, forb, invasive, and moss–lichen–fungi); however, by 2016, shrub, graminoid, forb, and invasive cover were higher in high-severity burn sites than in low-severity burn sites. Total fuel loads nine years post fire were higher in untreated, high-severity burn sites than any other sites. Tree canopy cover and density of trees, saplings, and seedlings were lower nine years post fire than one year post fire across treatments and severity, whereas live and dead tree basal area, understory surface cover, and fuel loads increased.
Conclusions: Pre-fire fuel treatments effectively lowered the occurrence of high-severity wildfire, likely due to successful pre-fire tree and sapling density and surface fuels reduction. This study also quantified the changes in vegetation and fuels from one to nine years post fire. We suggest that low-severity wildfire can meet prescribed fire management objectives of lowering surface fuel accumulations while not increasing overstory tree mortality.