Mixed-conifer research site on the San Fransisco Peaks, AZ – Site I

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Over the past two weeks, myself and several ERI staff members were able to establish six one hectare plots in a warm/dry mixed-conifer forest on the southwestern slope of the San Fransisco Peaks, within the boundary of a study area previously examined by Heinlein et al. (2005).

Mixed conifer forests of the American Southwest have been impacted similarly to other conifer forests, yet reference condition information vital to restoration are lacking. This is especially true with respect to spatial patterns, long term dynamics and the influence of site productivity; information critical to informing management decisions. It has been shown that landscape structures such as meadows, discrete tree patches, large trees, and aspen communities have declined as an interlocking understory of shade-tolerant and fire intolerant tree species increased and expanded their ranges, yet the spatial and temporal dynamics associated with these changes are rarely quantified and poorly understood. Our study (Site I of VI in a long-term project) strives to capitalize on existing study sites where fire chronologies have been collected and published, thus allowing for a more complete setting for describing changes in structure and composition.

Overall, this particular site (and the subsequent plot locations) is perfect! The site captures a nice range of contemporary density and species composition, elevation, aspect, and general condition. The site is clearly dominated by ponderosa pine and douglas-fir, but we did encounter quite a bit of large southwestern white pine, aspen, and even a couple of juniper and corkbark fir. Charred evidence and fire scars were everywhere, and the amount of fir and white pine regeneration is impressive…

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