Mixed-severity fire in lodgepole pine dominated forests: Are historical regimes sustainable on Oregon's Pumice Plateau, USA?

Emily K. Heyerdahl, Rachel A. Loehman, Donald A. Falk

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

19 Scopus citations

Abstract

In parts of central Oregon, coarse-textured pumice substrates limit forest composition to low-density lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta Douglas ex Loudon var. latifolia Engelm. ex S. Watson) with scattered ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) and a shrub understory dominated by antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata (Pursh) DC.). We reconstructed the historical fire regime from tree rings and simulated fire behavior over 783 ha of this forest type. For centuries (1650-1900), extensive mixed-severity fires occurred every 26 to 82 years, creating a multi-aged forest and shrub mosaic. Simulation modeling suggests that the historical mix of surface and passive crown fire were primarily driven by shrub biomass and wind speed. However, a century of fire exclusion has reduced the potential for the high-severity patches of fire that were common historically, likely by reducing bitterbrush cover, the primary ladder fuel. This reduced shrub cover is likely to persist until fire or insects create new canopy gaps. Crown fire potential may increase even with current fuel loadings if the climate predicted for midcentury lowers fuel moistures, but only under rare extreme winds. This study expands our emerging understanding of complexity in the disturbance dynamics of lodgepole pine across its broad North American range.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)593-603
Number of pages11
JournalCanadian Journal of Forest Research
Volume44
Issue number6
DOIs
StatePublished - Feb 2014

Keywords

  • Antelope bitterbrush
  • Fire behavior modeling
  • Fire history
  • Fire scars
  • Ponderosa pine

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Forestry
  • Ecology

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