Long-term efficacy of fuel reduction and restoration treatments in Northern Rockies dry forests

Journal article icon

Fuel and restoration treatments seeking to mitigate the likelihood of uncharacteristic high-severity wildfires in forests with historically frequent, low-severity fire regimes are increasingly common, but long-term treatment  effects on fuels, aboveground carbon, plant community structure, ecosystem resilience, and other ecosystem attributes are understudied. We present 20-year responses to thinning and prescribed burning treatments commonly used in dry, low-elevation forests of the western United States from a long-term study site in the Northern Rockies that is part of the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study. We provide a comprehensive synthesis of short-term (<4 years) and mid-term (<14 years) results from previous findings. We then place these results in the context of a mountain pine beetle (MPB; Dendroctonus ponderosae) outbreak that impacted the site 5–10 years post-treatment and describe 20-year responses to assess the longevity of restoration and fuel reduction treatments in light of the MPB outbreak. Thinning treatments had persistently lower forest density and higher tree  growth, but effects were more pronounced when thinning was combined with prescribed fire. The thinning +prescribed fire treatment had the additional benefit of maintaining the highest proportion of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) for overstory and regeneration. No differences in understory native plant cover and richness or exotic species cover remained after 20 years, but exotic species richness, while low relative to native species, was still higher in the thinning+prescribed fire treatment than the control

Stay Connected