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Wildfire and native fish: issues of forest health and conservation of sensitive species

Author(s): Bruce E. Rieman, Jim Clayton
Year Published: 1997

Issues related to forest health and the threat of larger, more destructive wildfires have led to major new initiatives to restructure and recompose forest communities in the western United States. Proposed solutions will depend, in part, on silvicultural treatments and prescribed burning. Large fires can produce dramatic changes in aquatic systems, including altered sediment and flow regimes, fish mortality, and even local extinctions. Responses of salmonid populations to large disturbances such as fire indicate that complexity and spatial diversity of habitats are important to the resilience and persistence of populations. Some populations retain the ecological diversity necessary to persist in the face of large fires, and natural events such as wildfire have been important in creating and maintaining habitat diversity. Although timber harvest and fire can precipitate similar changes in watershed processes, we do not necessarily expect the physical and ecological consequences of large fires and timber harvest to be the same. We agree that healthy forests are fundamental to healthy aquatic ecosystems. In their haste to restore unhealthy forests, however, managers must take care to avoid simplistic solutions that compound problems already present in the management of aquatic ecosystems and native fishes. Management to restore ecological structure, composition, and process is largely experimental and potentially risky. We propose that the mosaic of conditions in both terrestrial and aquatic systems provides an opportunity to learn and adapt new management without placing key remnant aquatic habitats and populations at risk.

Citation: Rieman, Bruce E.; Clayton, Jim. 1997. Wildfire and native fish: issues of forest health and conservation of sensitive species. Fisheries. 22(11): 6-15.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Aquatic Life, Water, Fire & Wildlife, Fish, Invertebrates, Aquatic, Management Approaches, Adaptive Management
Ecosystem(s): Subalpine wet spruce-fir forest, Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest, Montane wet mixed-conifer forest, Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 8129
FRAMES RCS number: 5002
Record updated: Apr 11, 2018