Some warm/dry mixed-conifer forests are at increasing risk of uncharacteristically large, high-severity fires. As a result, managers have begun ecological restoration efforts using treatments such as mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. Empirical information on the long-term impacts of these treatments is limited, especially in light of potential climate change. We assessed changes in forest structure and composition five-years following three alternative restoration treatments in a warm/dry mixed-conifer forest: (1) thin/burn, (2) prescribe burn, and (3) control. We used the Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator (Climate-FVS) model to quantify potential forest trajectories under alternative climate scenarios. Five years following treatments, changes in forest structure were similar to initial post-treatment conditions, with thin/burn being the only treatment to shift and maintain forest structure and composition within historical reference conditions. By 2013, the thin/burn had reduced basal area (11.3m2ha-1) and tree density (117.2treeha-1) by 56% and 79% respectively, compared to pre-treatment values. In the burn, basal area (20.5m2ha-1) and tree density (316.6treeha-1) was reduced by 20% and 35% respectively, from 2002 to 2013. Mortality of large ponderosa pine trees (the most fire-resistant species) throughout the duration of the experiment, averaged 6% in the burn compared to 16% in the thin/burn treatment. Changes five years following treatments were largely due to increases in sprouting species. Shrub and sapling densities were approximately two to three times higher (respectively) in the thin/burn compared to burn and control and dominated by sprouting oak and aspen. Under climate simulations, the thin/burn was more resilient in maintaining forest conditions compared to burn and control which approached meager forest conditions (3-4m2ha-1). These results indicate that restoration treatment that include both thinning and burning can maintain forest integrity over the next few decades.
- Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator
- Ecological restoration
- Historical reference conditions
- Prescribed fire
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Nature and Landscape Conservation
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law