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Using bark char codes to predict post-fire cambium mortality

Author(s): Sharon M. Hood, Danny R. Cluck, Sheri L. Smith, Kevin C. Ryan
Year Published: 2008

Cambium injury is an important factor in post-fire tree survival. Measurements that quantify the degree of bark charring on tree stems after fire are often used as surrogates for direct cambium injury because they are relatively easy to assign and are non-destructive. However, bark char codes based on these measurements have been inadequately tested to determine how well they relate to live or dead cambium. Methods for assessing cambium injury through direct sampling have also been questioned as a potential factor for increasing tree mortality. In this study we used data collected from 11 wildfires and 6 prescribed fires in California, Idaho, Montana, and Wyoming to develop a relationship between bark char codes and cambium status for 14 coniferous species. Burned trees were assessed at groundline for bark char severity on each bole quadrant and then sampled at the center of each quadrant to determine cambium status (live or dead). We found that the moderate and deep bark char codes were strongly associated with dead cambium for thin-bark species: lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), whitebark pine (P. albicaulis), western white pine (P. monticola), western redcedar (Thuja plicata), Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii), western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla), and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa). However, bark char codes were somewhat inaccurate in predicting cambium status of the thicker-bark species of white fir (Abies concolor), incense cedar (Calocedrus decurrens), ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa), Jeffrey pine (P. jeffreyi), Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii), western larch (Larix occidentalis), and sugar pine (P. lambertiana). We also evaluated the effect of direct cambium sampling on ponderosa pine tree mortality in eastern Montana. Mortality rates were equivalent for eastern Montana ponderosa pines with and without cambium sampling. Our results support using bark char codes as surrogates for cambium sampling in tree species with thin bark, but bark char codes for thick-bark species, especially the moderate char code, are often not accurate fire-injury variables, as they do not correlate well with cambium status.

Citation: Hood, Sharon M.; Cluck, Danny R.; Smith, Sheri L.; Ryan, Kevin C. 2008. Using bark char codes to predict post-fire cambium mortality. Fire Ecology. 4(1): 57-73.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation, Fuels Inventory & Monitoring, Fuels
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: 8171
FRAMES RCS number: 7464
Record updated: May 24, 2018