Treatment longevity and changes in surface fuel loads after pinyon–juniper mastication

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At three study sites in Utah, 45 sampling plots spanning a range of tree cover from 5% to 50% were masticated. We measured surface fuel load components three times over a 10‐yr period. We also measured tree cover, density, and height as indicators of treatment longevity. Changes in these variables were analyzed across the range of pre‐treatment tree cover using linear mixed effects modeling. We detected decreases in 1‐h down woody debris by 5–6 yr post‐treatment, and from 5–6 to 10 yr post‐treatment, but did not detect changes in 10‐h or 100 + 1000‐h down woody debris. By 10 yr post‐treatment, there was very little duff and tree litter left for all pre‐treatment tree cover values. Herbaceous fuels (all standing live and dead biomass) increased through 10 yr post‐treatment. At 10 yr post‐treatment, pinyon–juniper cover ranged 0–2.6%, and the majority of trees were <1 m in height. Given that 1‐h fuels were the only class of down woody debris that decreased, it may be beneficial to masticate woody fuels to the finest size possible. Decreases in 1‐h down woody debris and duff + litter fuels over time may have important implications for fire behavior and effects, but increases in herbaceous and shrub fuel loads should also be taken into account. At 10 yr post‐treatment, understory grasses and shrubs were not being outcompeted by trees, and average pinyon–juniper canopy cover was <1%. Therefore, tree regeneration was not sufficient to support a crown fire. In areas where sage‐grouse are a management concern, we recommend monitoring tree regeneration at mastication treatments at 10–15 yr post‐treatment.

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