Salvage logging, planting not necessary to regenerate Douglas-fir after Klamath fires

The following press release was sent out yesterday by Portland State University. – mk

Researchers at Portland State University and Oregon State University looking at the aftermath of wildfires in southwestern Oregon and northern California found that after 20 years, even in severely burned areas, Douglas-fir grew back on its own without the need for salvage logging and replanting.

The study, published online Oct. 26 in the journal Forest Ecology and Management, is the latest to address the contentious issue of whether forest managers should log dead timber and plant new trees after fires, or let them regenerate on their own.

Melissa Lucash, an assistant research professor of geography in PSU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a co-author of the study, said that concerns in the Klamath over whether conifer forests would regenerate after high-severity fires have led to salvage logging, replanting and shrub removal on federal lands throughout the region.

But the study found that the density of Douglas-fir was relatively high after 20 years and was unaffected by whether or not a site had been managed.

“This is an area where forest managers are really worried that the Douglas-fir won’t come back, but what we found is that they come back just fine on their own,” she said. “We forget the power of natural regeneration and that these burned sites don’t need to be salvage logged and planted.”

Lucash suggests that those resources could instead be reallocated elsewhere, perhaps to thinning forests to prevent high-severity wildfires.

The research team also included Maria Jose Lopez, a research associate at Universidad del Cono Sur de las Americas in Paraguay; Terry Marcey, a recent graduate of PSU’s Environmental Science and Management program; David Hibbs, a professor emeritus in Oregon State University’s College of Forestry; Jeff Shatford, a terrestrial habitat specialist in British Columbia’s Ministry of Forests, Lands, Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development; and Jonathan Thompson, a senior ecologist for Harvard Forest.

The authors sampled 62 field sites that had severely burned 20 years prior on both north and south slopes of the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountain — some of which had been salvaged logged and replanted and others that had been left to regenerate on its own.

Among the study’s findings:

• Aspect, or the direction a slope faces, played an important role in determining the effectiveness of post-fire practices.

• Density of Douglas-fir was higher on north than south aspects, but was unaffected by whether or not a site had been managed, suggesting that Douglas-fir regeneration is inherently less abundant on hot and dry sites and management does not influence the outcome.

• On the flip side, management practices increased the density of ponderosa pine on south aspects, but had no impact on north aspects. That finding suggests that with rising temperatures and increasing severity of fires in the region, management would be most effective when tailored to promote drought-tolerant ponderosa pine on south aspects.

• Managed sites had taller conifers, which can improve fire resistance, but also had fewer snags — an important habitat feature for bird, small mammals and amphibian species in the region.

The authors recommend that forest managers should avoid applying the same post-fire management practices everywhere and should instead tailor practices to specific objectives and the landscape context.

13 thoughts on “Salvage logging, planting not necessary to regenerate Douglas-fir after Klamath fires”

  1. I think that forest managers already “tailor practices to specific objectives and landscape context.” Back in the day that was called a “silvicultural prescription” and people were certified (including in a program with OSU !) to write them. I hope that hasn’t changed in the last 35 years or so!

    • Apparently, the Silvicultural Certification used to be the toughest one to get, for obvious reasons. I don’t know if that is true, today. It’s the timbermarkers who have to actually apply the prescriptions, trying to make it all work. Of course, there is no certification program in selecting the ‘right trees’ to save or cut.

    • The USFS silviculture certification program NASP (National Advanced Silviculture Program) is still going strong. THE college of forestry at OSU still hosts one of the intensive modules with a specific focus on quantitative skills.

    • That has definitely not changed, and it’s more challenging than it used to be. The one thing that many of these journal articles don’t address is that the Forest Service is implementing a Land Management Plan and depending on where the burn occurred, there may be different land management objectives, which may dictate some different approaches to reforestation. A very large percentage of the reforestation needs in the Forest Service are met through 100% natural regeneration. In some regions it is more than half.

      • Natural regeneration is indeed, great where it occurs. And I don’t necessarily mean ” a mix of species thought to be resilient to climate change”, I’m talking “any trees at all”.

        We can drive around and see many acres with no tree regeneration for 15 years post-fire. Getting some started seems like it would be good for carbon. Forest Service, or Regional figures, are good but not helpful if you happen to work in one of these areas.

  2. Luckily, salvage logging isn’t all about regeneration. It looks farther down the road, at future wildfires burning in either fallen snags, brush and thickets of small trees, or in areas with reduced larger fuels, after a wildfire.

    • Let’s hope also that salvage logging decisions look also at the benefits to people, the economic and social impacts – jobs, raw material for forest industries, dollars for local governments and school districts. To repeat a truth that seems to be largely ignored – In the management of our public lands, the welfare of Homo sapiens must be considered as well as that of Strix occidentalis caurina and Picoides borealis..

  3. The FS has probably logged less than 1% of what has burned in this region. Almost all of the logging done was roadside salvage who purpose was to keep roads open and safe. Fire salvage to me is about resource sequestration. It seems most people don’t respect this resource and our responsibility to society to not waste it.
    My experience has been that regeneration of our forests depends on having source of seed for the next forest. Some fires kill all the trees, leaving very little seed for the next forest. (I am interested to see what is left of our forests after reburning of the Biscuit fire area with the Klondike fire this summer).
    The title of this study could of been “Post fire salvage logging does not affect regeneration of the forest”.

    • Bob, I followed Jerry Franklin’s seed studies in the 70’s, but recently noted this 2007 paper

      “We observed as many as 84 –1,100 tph greater than 300 m from a seed source (Figure 6), suggesting that at this scale, forest recovery is not a simple function of distance to surviving trees that act as seed sources (Nathan and Muller-Landau 2000). There was no significant effect of distance from seed source on tree density for either the Douglas-fir series ( F ϭ 0.66; P Ͼ 0.42; n ϭ 24) or the white fir series ( F ϭ 1.89; P Ͼ 0.20; n ϭ 11). Our seed sources often were dense patches of trees providing abundant seed, thus increasing the probability of seed traveling long distances (more than 350 m). There was no significant effect of distance from seed source on tree density for either the Douglas-fir series ( F ϭ 0.66; P Ͼ 0.42; n ϭ 24) or the white fir series ( F ϭ 1.89; P Ͼ 0.20; n ϭ 11). Our seed sources often were dense patches of trees providing abundant seed, thus increasing the probability of seed traveling long distances (more than 350 m). These observations suggest that the mechanism(s) behind long-distance seed dispersal are not entirely clear and that models for long-distance seed dispersal of conifers are incomplete. ”

      This (long distance seed dispersal of conifers) seems like an important component to know about. You can have seed without seedlings but no seedlings without seed.


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