This press release from October 2020 are relevant to our discussions of forest management — variable-density thinning and Rx fire — in the Sierras and perhaps elsewhere. The study was is Conservation Biology.
An overview, here, provides key findings:
Results – highlights
- Both thinning treatments resulted in densities of >10” trees and species composition similar to what old-growth forests in this area historically contained.
- The board foot volume removed to establish the HighV and LowV treatments averaged about 14,000 ft per acre and allowed the thinning to pay for itself. Had a 30” diameter cap been used, volume would not have differed between the two thinning strategies.
- Prior to treatment, the study site had a high density of Northern flying squirrels (Glaucomys sabrinus), which are an important food source for raptors including spotted owls. While numbers caught in live traps declined in thinned units following treatment, the overall population size in the study area did not change, illustrating the potential benefits of habitat heterogeneity.
- Thinning treatments suffered far less tree mortality during and after the 2012-2015 drought than the unthinned controls. Basal area (the cross sectional area of live tree stems) declined 23% between 2014 and 2018 in the unthinned controls, while the basal area did not change in the thinned units, with mortality balanced by tree growth.
- Between 10-20% more snow accumulated in the thinned units compared with the unthinned controls in the 2013 and 2014 water years. Differences in snow melt out date among treatments were inconclusive, in part because both years were unusually warm and dry.
- Many understory plant species are responding most favorably to the combination of either type of thinning plus prescribed fire. Some shrubs, including Ceanothus – an important browse for deer – show the largest increase in the HighV thinning plus prescribed fire treatment. Germination of Ceanothus seeds is stimulated by fire and the presence of gaps provides suitable high-light environments.