Repeated fall Rx fire in previously thinned ponderosa pine increases growth and resistance

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This study examines tree growth and mortality associated with spring and fall burning repeated at five (5 yr) and fifteen-year (15 yr) intervals in six previously thinned ponderosa pine stands in the southern Blue Mountain Ecoregion near Burns, Oregon, USA. Each stand consisted of an unburned control, and four season-by-burn interval treatments: spring 5 yr, spring 15 yr, fall 5 yr, and fall 15 yr. Burning was initiated in fall 1997 and spring  1998. Pine height and diameter growth was evaluated in 2013, 15 years following initial treatment. Mortality was assessed annually from 2002 to 2017, when these stands experienced severe defoliation from pine butterfly (PB, Neophasia menapia), followed by a moderate outbreak of western pine beetle (WPB, Dendroctonus brevicomis), allowing us to examine resistance to these disturbances. Pine in the 5 yr fall treatments added more diameter than spring 15 yr and marginally more than spring 5 yr, while fall 15 yr added marginally more diameter than spring 15 yr. In addition, the fall 5 yr treatments had lower mortality associated with prescribed fire, PB, WPB, Ips spp., red turpentine beetle (RTB, D. valens), and mountain pine beetle (MPB, D. ponderosae), but the effect was not always significant. Annosus root disease (ARD, caused by Heterobasidion irregulare) and black stain root  disease (BSRD, caused by Leptographium wagneri var. ponderosum) appear to be unaffected by burning. However, BSRD occurrence dramatically declined in all treatments, probably a result of thinning prior to study initiation. Results from this study demonstrate that repeated fall burning, especially at 5-year intervals, improves ponderosa pine diameter growth and may provide resistance to future biotic and abiotic disturbances while spring burning, regardless of frequency, does not.

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