Toward a more ecologically informed view of severe forest fires

A new paper from researchers and scientists at the University of Montana, U.S. Forest Service, University of Missouri and Humboldt State University has just been published in the journal Ecosphere. Download it here.

Abstract. We use the historical presence of high-severity fire patches in mixed-conifer forests of the western United States to make several points that we hope will encourage development of a more ecologically informed view of severe wildland fire effects. First, many plant and animal species use, and have some- times evolved to depend on, severely burned forest conditions for their persistence. Second, evidence from fire history studies also suggests that a complex mosaic of severely burned conifer patches was common historically in the West. Third, to maintain ecological integrity in forests born of mixed-severity fire, land managers will have to accept some severe fire and maintain the integrity of its aftermath. Lastly, public education messages surrounding fire could be modified so that people better understand and support management designed to maintain ecologically appropriate sizes and distributions of severe fire and the complex early-seral forest conditions it creates.

2 Comments

  1. The article concludes with a clear (might I say “commonsense?”) recommendation for forest planning to strategically address the spatial aspects of fuels and fire management:

    “Public land managers face significant challenges balancing the threats posed by severe fire with legal mandates to conserve wildlife habitat for plant and animal species that are positively associated with recently burned forests. Nevertheless, land managers who wish to maintain biodiversity must find a way to embrace a fire use plan that allows for the presence of all fire severities in places where a historical mixed severity fire regime creates conditions needed by native species while protecting homes and lives at the same time. This balancing act can be best performed by managing fire along a continuum that spans from aggressive prevention and suppression near designated human settlement areas to active “ecological fire management” (Ingalsbee 2015) in places farther removed from such areas.”

  2. If we keep moving in the direction that fire is good for the forest and as much old growth burns in the next 25 years that has burn in the last 25 years this whole idea of saving old growth will be mot. Most of it will have been killed by fire.
    I only have had experience with fire on the western side of mountains in Southern Oregon and Northern California. Most of areas that I have seen that have been burned have been burned to a crisp. I have notice very few areas where the fire “thinned the undergrowth”. Most of often there is almost 100% mortality no matter what the age of the trees were before the fire.
    I have several basic problems with the current popular assumptions.
    Just because some species are fire dependent doesn’t mean they actually need fire. A pine forest
    that comes after a fire doesn’t need to be burnt down so a new forest can come. We already had one until it burnt.
    That fire keeps the forest thinned. Often after a fire the brush comes back thicker than ever.
    The trees come back as thick as “dog hair”, or not at all if there is no seed source.
    Salvage logging is bad for the forests. After returning to many areas years after they have been burned and salvaged the areas that were salvaged logged are just as green if not greener than there areas that were never touched.
    Salvage logging harms the watershed. Again that has not been my experience. Fire does eliminate shade cover provided by trees. Fires can harm the ability of the soil to absorb moisture due to lack of soil after a fire. I have seen creek areas that have been burned but never touched, washout. Most salvage logging is keep out of riparian areas.
    There will always be fires in our forests, but the devastation they cause should not be promoted as forest health.

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