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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Scott L. Stephens; Jason J. Moghaddas; Carleton B. Edminster; Carl E. Fiedler; Sally M. Haase; Michael G. Harrington; Jon E. Keeley; Eric E. Knapp; James D. McIver; Kerry L. Metlen; Carl N. Skinner; Andrew P. Youngblood
Publication Date: 2009

Forest structure and species composition in many western U.S. coniferous forests have been altered through fire exclusion, past and ongoing harvesting practices, and livestock grazing over the 20th century. The effects of these activities have been most pronounced in seasonally dry, low and mid-elevation coniferous forests that once experienced frequent, low to moderate intensity, fire regimes. In this paper, we report the effects of Fire and Fire Surrogate (FFS) forest stand treatments on fuel load profiles, potential fire behavior, and fire severity under three weather scenarios from six western U.S. FFS sites. This replicated, multisite experiment provides a framework for drawing broad generalizations about the effectiveness of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments on surface fuel loads, forest structure, and potential fire severity. Mechanical treatments without fire resulted in combined 1-, 10-, and 100-hour surface fuel loads that were significantly greater than controls at three of five FFS sites. Canopy cover was significantly lower than controls at three of five FFS sites with mechanical-only treatments and at all five FFS sites with the mechanical plus burning treatment; fire-only treatments reduced canopy cover at only one site. For the combined treatment of mechanical plus fire, all five FFS sites with this treatment had a substantially lower likelihood of passive crown fire as indicated by the very high torching indices. FFS sites that experienced significant increases in 1-, 10-, and 100-hour combined surface fuel loads utilized harvest systems that left all activity fuels within experimental units. When mechanical treatments were followed by prescribed burning or pile burning, they were the most effective treatment for reducing crown fire potential and predicted tree mortality because of low surface fuel loads and increased vertical and horizontal canopy separation. Results indicate that mechanical plus fire, fire-only, and mechanical-only treatments using whole-tree harvest systems were all effective at reducing potential fire severity under severe fire weather conditions. Retaining the largest trees within stands also increased fire resistance.

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Citation: Stephens, Scott L.; Moghaddas, Jason J.; Edminster, Carl; Fiedler, Carl E.; Haase, Sally; Harrington, Michael; Keeley, Jon E.; Knapp, Eric E.; McIver, James D.; Metlen, Kerry; Skinner, Carl N.; Youngblood, Andrew. 2009. Fire treatment effects on vegetation structure, fuels, and potential fire severity in western U.S. forests. Ecological Applications 19(2):305-320.

Cataloging Information

  • Abies concolor
  • Abies magnifica
  • Arizona
  • Blue Mountains
  • Calocedrus decurrens
  • Cascades Range
  • coniferous forests
  • cover
  • diameter classes
  • Douglas-fir
  • fire exclusion
  • fire hazard
  • fire intensity
  • fire management
  • fire policy
  • fire regimes
  • fire resistance
  • fire suppression
  • forest management
  • fuel loading
  • fuel management
  • fuel moisture
  • fuel treatments
  • grazing
  • herbaceous vegetation
  • humidity
  • Jeffrey pine
  • livestock
  • mixed conifer
  • Montana
  • mortality
  • National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study
  • national forests
  • Oregon
  • Pinus jeffreyi
  • Pinus lambertiana
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • Rocky Mountains
  • Sierra Nevada
  • statistical analysis
  • surface fuels
  • trees
  • vegetation surveys
  • wildfires
  • woody fuels
Tall Timbers Record Number: 23427Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Journals-EAbstract Status: Okay, Fair use, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 7028

This bibliographic record was either created or modified by Tall Timbers and is provided without charge to promote research and education in Fire Ecology. The E.V. Komarek Fire Ecology Database is the intellectual property of Tall Timbers.