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Low- and moderate-severity fire offers key insights for landscape restoration in ponderosa pine forests

Author(s): Jeffery B. Cannon, Katarina J. Warnick, Spencer Elliott, Jennifer S. Briggs
Year Published: 2022
Description:

Restoration goals in fire-prone conifer forests include mitigating fire hazard while restoring forest structural components linked to disturbance resilience and ecological function. Restoration of overstory spatial pattern in forests often falls short of management objectives due to complexities in implementation, regulation, and available data. When historic data is available, it is often collected at plots sizes too small to inform coarse-scale metrics like gap size and tree patch structure (e.g., 1 ha). Principles of ecological forestry typically emphasize overstory removal patterns that emulate those of natural disturbances, thus low- and moderate-severity portions of contemporary wildfires may serve as a guide to restoration treatments where mixed-severity fires occur. Here, we compare forest spatial pattern and configuration in 15 mechanical restoration treatments and low- and moderate- severity portions of three wildfires in ponderosa pine forests to determine how they differ in spatial pattern. We obtained satellite imagery of restoration treatments and wildfires and used supervised classification to differentiate canopy and openings. We assessed elements of landscape structure including canopy and gap cover, gap attributes, and landscape heterogeneity for each disturbance type. We found that both mechanical restoration treatments and low- and moderate severity portions of wildfires had reduced forest cover, increased gap cover, and altered pattern and arrangement of gaps relative to undisturbed areas, though the magnitude of changes were greatest in the burned sites we examined. Low- and moderate-severity wildfire consistently increased landscape heterogeneity while mechanical treatments did not, suggesting that a greater emphasis on increasing gap and patch spatial structure may make mechanical treatments more congruent with natural disturbances. Outcomes of low and moderate-severity portions of wildfires may provide important information upon which to base management prescriptions where reference data on landscape patterns is unavailable.

Citation: Cannon, Jeffery B.; Warnick, Katarina J.; Elliott, Spencer; Briggs, Jennifer S. 2022. Low- and moderate-severity fire offers key insights for landscape restoration in ponderosa pine forests. Ecological Applications 32(2):e2490. https://doi.org/10.1002/eap.2490
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Fire Effects, Mapping, Fuels, Fuel Treatments & Effects, Prescribed Fire-use treatments, Fuels Inventory & Monitoring, Recovery after fire, Restoration
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 24406
FRAMES RCS number: 64701
Record updated: Apr 6, 2022