Evaluating the ecological sustainability of a ponderosa pine ecosystem on the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona
Document Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Reuben Weisz; Jack Triepke; Russ Truman
Publication Year: 2009

Cataloging Information

  • Arizona
  • climate change
  • HRV - historical range of variability
  • landscape ecology
  • landscape model
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
  • reference conditions
  • sustainability
Partner Site(s):
  • Southwest FireCLIME
Record Maintained By:
Record Last Modified: June 11, 2020
FRAMES Record Number: 7282

Annotated Bibliography

This document is part of the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography, which includes published research related to the interactions between climate change, wildfire, and subsequent ecosystem effects in the southwestern U.S. The publications contained in the Bibliography have each been summarized to distill the outcomes as they pertain to fire and climate. Go to this document's record in the Southwest FireCLIME Annotated Bibliography.


This paper describes a process to evaluate the ecological sustainability of fire-adapted ecosystems, using a case study based on ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests. We evaluated ecological sustainability by: 1) using reference conditions and models to describe the historical range of natural variability; 2) using recent remote sensing-based mid-scale mapping of existing vegetation to describe current conditions; and 3) retooling the reference condition models to incorporate current natural and anthropogenic processes to project future conditions of ecosystems. Finally, we discuss a process for incorporating consequences of climate change. Using the Vegetation Dynamics Development Tool (VDDT), we constructed state-and-transition models (STM) for cold ponderosa pine bunchgrass systems of northern Arizona. We included historic and contemporary fire frequencies in the respective models, and integrated forest insect and disease events. For the contemporary model, we added anthropogenic transitions based on the types and frequencies of current management activities. We calculated the historic proportion of each vegetation state by averaging model outputs from multiple 1000 yr simulations. We summarized current conditions from remote-sensing based existing vegetation map data, and then used the contemporary model to generate out-year projections as expressions of current management practices. Finally, we generated ecological departure ratings based on disparities between current and historic conditions, and between projected and historic conditions. Our analysis indicated that fire suppression coupled with infrequent management activities contributed to already significant trends in departure from reference conditions. We concluded by recommending additional steps for evaluating the effects of climate change, as well as the effects of alternative management scenarios for addressing climate change issues.

Online Link(s):
Weisz, Reuben; Triepke, Jack; Truman, Russ. 2009. Evaluating the ecological sustainability of a ponderosa pine ecosystem on the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona. Fire Ecology 5(1):100-114.