Strategically placed landscape fuel treatments decrease fire severity and promote recovery in the northern Sierra Nevada
Publication date: 15 March 2019
Source: Forest Ecology and Management, Volume 436
Author(s): Carmen L. Tubbesing, Danny L. Fry, Gary B. Roller, Brandon M. Collins, Varvara A. Fedorova, Scott L. Stephens, John J. Battles
Strategically placed landscape area treatments (SPLATs) are landscape fuel reduction treatments designed to reduce fire severity across an entire landscape with only a fraction of the landscape treated. Though SPLATs have gained attention in scientific and policy arenas, they have rarely been empirically tested. This study takes advantage of a strategically placed landscape fuel treatment network that was implemented and monitored before being burned by a wildfire. We evaluated treatment efficacy in terms of resistance, defined here as the capacity to withstand disturbance, and recovery, defined here as regeneration following disturbance. We found that the treated landscape experienced lower fire severity than an adjacent control landscape: in the untreated control landscape, 26% of land area was burned with >90% basal area mortality, according to the remote-sensing-derived relative differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR), while in the treated landscape only 11% burned at the same severity. This difference was despite greater pre-treatment fire risk in the treatment landscape, as indicated by FARSITE fire behavior modeling. At a more local scale, monitoring plots within the treatments themselves saw greater regeneration of conifer seedlings two years following the fire than plots outside the treatments. Mean seedling densities for all conifer species were 7.8 seedlings m−2 in treated plots and only 1.4 seedlings m−2 in control plots. These results indicate that SPLATs achieved their objective of increasing forest resistance and recovery.
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