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Forest structure and residual tree growth at the Northwest Gateway project area, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

April 17, 2023

Mechanical thinning and prescribed fire are common mitigation treatments to reduce fire hazards. However, these treatments are infrequently applied together within national parks. The Northwest Gateway project at Lassen Volcanic National Park is an exception to this pattern. Various thinning prescriptions were applied to the project area in 2014, with a subset of the area prescribed burned in 2018 and 2019. To determine responses to these treatments, we analyzed forest structure and fuels data across a network of long-term monitoring plots measured before treatments and in multiple years following treatments. Additionally, we assessed patterns in individual tree growth from cores taken from 101 individual yellow pines (ponderosa pine, Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex Lawson & C. Lawson, and Jeffery pine, P. jeffreyi Grev. & Balf.) within the project unit.

Basal area and stem density were reduced following thinning treatments for pole-sized (≤15-centimeter diameter at base height) and overstory trees (>15-centimeter diameter at base height), with sharper reductions in pole-sized trees. Proportional change in live basal area after thinning was highest for pole-size Abies, with more than 80-percent basal area and stem density removed on average. There were large reductions in pole-sized Pinus and Populus. However, Populus trees were not targeted for removal, suggesting that these trees died via other mechanisms. Thinning treatments also resulted in reductions in stand density index values and in surface fuel loading when followed by prescribed fire, particularly for small fuels size classes (such as litter/duff, 1-hour, and 10-hour fuels). Growth of individual residual yellow pine, measured in terms of annual basal area increment, indicated a strong growth release in the years following thinning treatments.

Taken together, these results indicate that forest restoration treatments at the Northwest Gateway project area were effective at reducing stand density and encouraging growth of residual Pinus. Interestingly, our results also indicated that although thinning followed by prescribed fire was most effective at reducing surface fuel loads, harvest techniques such as whole tree yarding may effectively reduce the accumulation of post-treatment residual fuels, especially when combined with hand piling and other targeted treatments.

Publication Year 2023
Title Forest structure and residual tree growth at the Northwest Gateway project area, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California
DOI 10.3133/ofr20231021
Authors Micah C. Wright, Phillip J. van Mantgem, Calvin Farris
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Open-File Report
Series Number 2023-1021
Index ID ofr20231021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center