Pre-wildfire management treatments interact with fire severity to have lasting effects on post-wildfire vegetation response

Kristen L. Shive, Carolyn H. Sieg, Peter Z. Fulé

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

53 Scopus citations


Land managers are routinely applying fuel reduction treatments to mitigate the risk of severe, stand-replacing fire in ponderosa pine communities of the southwestern US. When these treatments are burned by wildfire they generally reduce fire severity, but less is known about how they influence post-wildfire vegetation recovery, as compared to pre-fire untreated areas. We re-measured existing plots on the 2002 Rodeo-Chediski Fire 8. years after the wildfire to track plant community and exotic species response, as well as patterns of pine regeneration. We compared areas that experienced high- and low-severity burning, and also examined how pre-fire treatment (cutting in an uneven-aged harvesting system with prescribed fire) modified vegetation response. We detected persistent differences between low- and high-severity areas for nearly all variables measured. In high-severity areas overall understory plant cover was 40.6%, nearly three times that observed in low-severity areas; shrub cover was 18.4%, four and a half times greater than that observed in low-severity areas. We also detected significantly higher exotic forb cover in high-severity areas, although overall exotic response was generally quite low (<2%). Although this represents a slight decrease in exotic cover since the initial 2004/2005 measurements, the frequency of several exotic species did increase through time (particularly Tragopogon dubius and Verbascum thapsus). Pre-fire treatment resulted in significantly higher pine regeneration frequency in treated versus untreated areas. Within low severity areas, mean pine regeneration frequency was 0.17 in pre-fire untreated areas versus 0.06 in areas that were not treated before the fire. Within high severity burned areas, mean pine regeneration frequency was 0.67 in pre-fire treated areas, but was only 0.19 in pre-fire untreated areas. This treatment effect in high-severity areas may be linked to reduction in the overall patch size of high burn severity in pre-fire treated areas, which resulted in a more heterogeneous mixture of low and moderate severity burning in the neighborhood. This pattern decreased distance to seed source, which likely facilitated the more frequent pine regeneration observed. In addition to the well-documented benefits of fuel reduction treatments in reducing subsequent fire severity, these data suggest that even where treated areas do burn severely the size of severely burned patches is limited in extent, which is likely to have important ramifications for future reforestation and retention of foundation species.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)75-83
Number of pages9
JournalForest Ecology and Management
StatePublished - Jun 1 2013


  • Arizona
  • Exotic species
  • High severity
  • Pine regeneration
  • Ponderosa pine
  • Rodeo-Chediski Fire

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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