“Early View” is like Christmas!

I’m extremely happy to say that the following papers are now out in early view – the first two papers are the results of Eryn Schineder’s and Kyle Rodman’s thesis work. For those who may not know, Eryn’s work focused on spatial patterns and reference conditions at the Barney Springs site south of Flagstaff, a pure ponderosa pine site on limestone soils that has managed to avoid being harvested. Truly a unique system to study… Kyle’s work also focused on spatial patterns and reference conditions, but in dry mixed-conifer sites along the Mogollon Rim. He presents a variety of reference attributes that will be interesting and applicable to many of you currently working in dry mixed-conifer forests (especially this findings regarding long-term changes in species composition). I’m am really proud of these two and both works are significant contributions to our knowledge regarding HRV and long-term vegetation dynamics. In case you’re wondering, Eryn and Kyle are both currently pursuing PhDs – Eryn with Andrew Larson at Univ. of Montana and Kyle at Univ. of Colorado at Boulder with Tom Veblen.

Lastly, the third paper presents an idea that Daniel Laughlin, Rob Strahan, Dave Huffman and I have been developing for a while now. In this paper we present a functional (species trait-based) approach to restoring resilient ecosystems in light of changing environmental conditions and explore it’s application in dry mixed-conifer forests (study sites at Black Mesa and on the north rim of Grand Canyon NP). Really exciting work that I’m happy to have been a part of!!!

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It’s been a productive year thus far…

I’ve been out of pocket for awhile on this blog, but it’s fir a good reason. I’ve been writing my butt off! Below are four manuscripts published in the last few months, all of which I was a part of… I’ll like the work speak for itself.

Taylor The Economics of Ecological Restoration and Hazardous Fuel Reduction Treatments in the Ponderosa Pine Forest Ecosystem
by M H Taylor, A J Sanchez Meador, Y S Kim, K Rollins, and H Will
Abstract: In this article, we develop a simulation model of the benefits and costs of managing the ponderosa pine forest ecosystem in the southwestern United States. Using the model, we evaluate and compare the economic benefits and costs of ecological restoration and hazardous fuel reduction treatments. Both treatment approaches increase the expected number of low-severity wildfires, which can promote postfire rehabilitation. Hazardous fuel reduction treatments are likely to reduce expected wildfire suppression costs, but not enough to offset the costs of implementing treatments. Conversely, ecological restoration treatments do not necessarily reduce expected wild-fire suppression costs but fully restore the ecosystem in more than half of the simulation runs, which lowers the need for future fire suppression and reduces the chance of conversion to nonforest, alternative stable states. We find that the choice between hazardous fuel reduction and ecological treatments will depend on the management objective being pursued, as well as on site-specific factors such as the wildfire return interval and the economic value of biomass removed.
 Stoddard Five-year post-restoration conditions and simulated climate-change trajectories in a warm/dry mixed-conifer forest, southwestern Colorado, USA
by M T Stoddard, A J Sánchez Meador, P Z Fulé, and J E Korb
Abstract: Some warm/dry mixed-conifer forests are at increasing risk of uncharacteristically large, high-severity fires. As a result, managers have begun ecological restoration efforts using treatments such as mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. Empirical information on the long-term impacts of these treatments is limited, especially in light of potential climate change. We assessed changes in forest structure and composition five-years following three alternative restoration treatments in a warm/dry mixed-conifer forest: (1) thin/burn, (2) prescribe burn, and (3) control. We used the Climate-Forest Vegetation Simulator (Climate-FVS) model to quantify potential forest trajectories under alternative climate scenarios. Five years following treatments, changes in forest structure were similar to initial post-treatment conditions, with thin/burn being the only treatment to shift and maintain forest structure and composition within historical reference conditions. By 2013, the thin/burn had reduced basal area (11.3 m2 ha-1) and tree density (117.2 tree ha-1) by 56% and 79% respectively, compared to pre-treatment values. In the burn, basal area (20.5 m2 ha-1) and tree density (316.6 tree ha-1) was reduced by 20% and 35% respectively, from 2002 to 2013. Mortality of large ponderosa pine trees (the most fire-resistant species) throughout the duration of the experiment, averaged 6% in the burn compared to 16% in the thin/burn treatment. Changes five years following treatments were largely due to increases in sprouting species. Shrub and sapling densities were approximately two to three times higher (respectively) in the thin/burn compared to burn and control and dominated by sprouting oak and aspen. Under climate simulations, the thin/burn was more resilient in maintaining forest conditions compared to burn and control which approached meager forest conditions (3–4 m2 ha-1). These results indicate that restoration treatment that include both thinning and burning can maintain forest integrity over the next few decades.
 Tuten Ecological restoration and fine-scale forest structure regulation in southwestern ponderosa pine forests
by M C. Tuten, A J Sánchez Meador, and P Z. Fulé
Abstract: Fine-scale forest patterns are an important component of forest ecosystem complexity and spatial pattern objectives are an increasingly common component of contemporary silviculture prescriptions in dry fire-adapted forests of North America. Despite their importance, questions remain regarding the assessment of silvicultural treatments designed to meet spatial objectives. We initiated a replicated silvicultural assessment of two forest management approaches commonly applied in dense ponderosa pine forests of the Southwest United States: historical evidence-based ecological restoration guidelines (ERG) and northern goshawk (Accipiter gentilis) foraging area management recommendations (GMR). We compared stand-level characteristics, global tree location point patterns and tree group-level attributes resulting from the marking of these approaches to current forest conditions and patterns of historical forest remnants in six, 2.02 ha stem mapped plots. We also assessed group-level Vegetative Structural Stage (VSS; a classification of fine-scale forest structural development used to regulate fine-scale spatial patterns in these forests). ERG and GMR-based treatments significantly reduced densities and basal area from the current condition, but did not significantly differ in density from historical forest remnant estimates. GMR-based treatments retained greater stand level basal area than ERG-based treatments, primarily in large, 28–48 cm tree diameter classes. GMR-based treatments approximated global tree location point patterns of forest remnants better than ERG-based treatments, primarily due to a 5–6 m minimum spacing of residual trees, but also likely due to specific aspects of ERG-based marking techniques. Despite this difference, both treatments resulted in group-level characteristics similar to those exhibited by historical forest remnants. Both treatments significantly altered group-level VSS area and reduced variation of tree diameters within classified VSS groups.
 Outzs Post-fire ponderosa pine regeneration with and without planting in Arizona and New Mexico
by J Ouzts, T Kolb, D Huffman, A J Sánchez Meador
Abstract: Forest fires are increasing in size and severity globally, yet the roles of natural and artificial regeneration in promoting forest recovery are poorly understood. Post-fire regeneration of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa, Lawson and C. Lawson) in the southwestern U.S. is slow, episodic, and difficult to predict. Planting of ponderosa pine after wildfire may accelerate reforestation, but little is known about survival of plantings and the amount of post-fire natural regeneration. We compared ponderosa pine regeneration between paired planted and unplanted plots at eight sites in Arizona and New Mexico that recently (2002– 2005) burned severely. Two sites had no natural regeneration and no survival of planted seedlings. Seedling presence increased with number of years since burning across all plots, was positively associated with forb and litter cover on planted plots, and was positively associated with litter cover on unplanted plots. Survival of planted seedlings, measured five to eight years after planting, averaged 25% (SE = 8) and varied from 0% to 70% across sites resulting in seedling densities of 0–521 trees ha-1. Based on a projected 44% survival of seedlings to mature trees and target density of mature trees determined by historical range of variability and ecological restoration principles, four of eight sites have a seedling density in planted plots (125–240 ha-1) that will produce a density of mature trees (55–106 ha-1) close to desired levels, whereas seedlings are currently deficient at three planted sites, and in surplus at one site, which had abundant natural regeneration. Natural regeneration in unplanted plots during the first decade after burning produced seedling densities inconsistent with desired numbers of mature trees. Natural regeneration in unplanted plots produced less than 33 seedlings ha-1 at seven of eight sites, but produced 1433 seedlings ha-1 at one high-elevation site that supported a more mesic vegetation community before burning than the other sites. Our results show that current practices for planting ponderosa pine after severe fires in Arizona and New Mexico produce desired numbers of seedlings in approximately half of all projects, whereas natural regeneration rarely does within the first decade after burning.

 

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A little shameless press…

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Last month’s Journal of Forestry and the Forestry Source Newspaper featuring our article “Implications of diameter caps on multiple forest resource responses in the context of 4FRI: Results from the Forest Vegetation Simulator” and an interview with Dr. Sanchez Meador.

 

Last month, the Forestry Source (the Society of American Foresters’ newspaper) decided to feature one of our recently published articles and the resulting news article included an interview with yours truly. I’ll be the first to admin that while I’m a huge extrovert, I hate giving interviews. The editor did a great job and I’m happy with the way the article turned out. If you’d like to read the new article you can download it here and if you like to read manuscript, which appeared in the Journal of Forestry that same month, you can find it here.

Here’s the citation for the manuscript: Sánchez Meador, A.J., Waring, K.M., and E.L. Kalies. 2015. Implications of diameter caps on multiple forest resource responses in the context of 4FRI: Results from the Forest Vegetation Simulator. Journal of Forestry 113(2) 219-230.

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The Culmination of a Multi-year Collaborative Effort

1000343_10201990475388401_2134217229_nThe image to the left is of RMRS-GTR-310. For me, this manuscript is the culmination of a multi-year collaborative effort with the USFS Southwestern Region and RMRS intended to provide land managers with a better understanding of forest structure, composition, and processes as they analyze and make decisions about restoration of frequent-fire forests. The document synthesizes relevant forest science, provides implementation suggestions, and communicates the broad range of benefits associated with the restoration of frequent-fire forests.

Citation:
Reynolds, Richard T.; Sánchez Meador, Andrew J.; Youtz, James A.; Nicolet, Tessa; Matonis, Megan S.; Jackson, Patrick L.; DeLorenzo, Donald G.; Graves, Andrew D. 2013. Restoring composition and structure in Southwestern frequent-fire forests: A science-based framework for improving ecosystem resiliency. Gen. Tech. Rep. RMRS-GTR-310. Fort Collins, CO: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. 76 p. Download

 Abstract:
Ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests in the Southwest United States are experiencing, or have become increasingly susceptible to, large-scale severe wildfire, insect, and disease episodes resulting in altered plant and animal demographics, reduced productivity and biodiversity, and impaired ecosystem processes and functions. We present a management framework based on a synthesis of science on forest ecology and management, reference conditions, and lessons learned during implementations of our restoration framework. Our framework focuses on the restoration of key elements similar to the historical composition and structure of vegetation in these forests: (1) species composition; (2) groups of trees; (3) scattered individual trees; (4) grass-forb-shrub interspaces; (5) snags, logs, and woody debris; and (6) variation in the arrangements of these elements in space and time. Our framework informs management strategies that can improve the resiliency of frequent-fire forests and facilitate the resumption of characteristic ecosystem processes and functions by restoring the composition, structure, and spatial patterns of vegetation. We believe restoration of key compositional and structural elements on a per-site basis will restore resiliency of frequent-fire forests in the Southwest, and thereby position them to better resist, and adapt to, future disturbances and climates.

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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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Prezi on overview of LEARN

Yesterday, I presented an invited talk to the Kaibab National Forest of an overview of the ERI’s LEARN (Long-term Ecological Assessment and Restoration Network). LEARN includes ten permanently marked, well-documented research sites where researchers have used standardized methods of data collection to facilitate long-term monitoring. The LEARN allows researchers and land managers to compare the effects of forest restoration treatments (and in one case, fuels reduction) on all aspects of ecosystem dynamics across a variety of forest types from pinyon-juniper to ponderosa pine to dry mixed conifer. Research on LEARN sites has been tremendously productive (over 120 peer-reviewed manuscripts), and has proven influential in informing larger, landscape-scale restoration treatments across the Southwest. Check it out…

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