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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Peter Z. Fulé; Julie E. Korb; Rosalind Wu
Publication Date: 2009

We selected a warm/dry mixed conifer forest (ponderosa pine, white fir, Douglas-fir, and aspen) in southwestern Colorado to reconstruct historical conditions of fire regime and forest structure in preparation for an experiment in ecological restoration. Although mixed conifer forests are of high ecological and social value in the Southwest, they have been less studied than ponderosa pine forests. Fire-scar analysis on a 150-ha area showed recurring fires at mean intervals of 24 years (all fires with minimum of 2 sample trees scarred) to 32 years (fire scarring 25% or more of sample trees) from the 16th century until the abrupt cessation of fire after 1868, concurrent with European settlement. There was no evidence in age or species-specific data of severe burning at the scale of the study blocks (approximately 200 ha). The forest remained unharvested throughout most of the 20th century, until a cut in the early 1990s removed approximately equal basal areas of ponderosa pine and white fir. Forest structure had already changed substantially, however. Total basal area increased from an average of 11 m2 ha-1 in 1870 to 27 m2 ha-1 in 2003, despite harvesting of at least 8.4 m2 ha-1. Ponderosa pine declined from representing nearly two-thirds of basal area in 1870 to one-third in 2003. The other species increased dramatically, especially white fir, which went from 12% to 35% of basal area and dominated stand density with an average of 392 trees ha−1. Total tree density increased from 142 trees ha-1 in 1870 to 677 trees ha-1 in 2003. The ecological changes that occurred here since the 19th century have been in exactly the opposite direction considering the warm, fire-favoring climate expected in the 21st century. If warm/dry mixed conifer forests of southern Colorado are to have a reasonable chance for persistence under the future climate regime, restoring conditions more similar to the frequently burned, open forests of the past is likely to be a useful starting point.

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Citation: Fulé, Peter Z.; Korb, Julie E.; Wu, Rosalind. 2009. Changes in forest structure of a mixed conifer forest, southwestern Colorado, USA. Forest Ecology and Management 258(7):1200-1210.

Cataloging Information

Partner Sites:
  • Abies concolor
  • Colorado
  • coniferous forests
  • dendrochronology
  • diameter classes
  • Douglas-fir
  • ecological restoration
  • European settlement
  • fire exclusion
  • fire management
  • fire regimes
  • fire scar analysis
  • forest management
  • mixed conifer forest
  • national forests
  • Picea engelmannii
  • pine
  • pine forests
  • Pinus flexilis
  • Pinus ponderosa
  • ponderosa pine
  • population density
  • Populus tremuloides
  • precipitation
  • Pseudotsuga menziesii
  • reconstruction
  • succession
  • surface fires
  • trees
  • wildfires
Tall Timbers Record Number: 24134Location Status: In-fileCall Number: Fire FileAbstract Status: Fair use, Okay, Reproduced by permission
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 9199

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.
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.