Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

Long-term effects of prescribed fire on mixed conifer forest structure in the Sierra Nevada, California

September 1, 2011

The capacity of prescribed fire to restore forest conditions is often judged by changes in forest structure within a few years following burning. However, prescribed fire might have longer-term effects on forest structure, potentially changing treatment assessments. We examined annual changes in forest structure in five 1 ha old-growth plots immediately before prescribed fire and up to eight years after fire at Sequoia National Park, California. Fire-induced declines in stem density (67% average decrease at eight years post-fire) were nonlinear, taking up to eight years to reach a presumed asymptote. Declines in live stem biomass were also nonlinear, but smaller in magnitude (32% average decrease at eight years post-fire) as most large trees survived the fires. The preferential survival of large trees following fire resulted in significant shifts in stem diameter distributions. Mortality rates remained significantly above background rates up to six years after the fires. Prescribed fire did not have a large influence on the representation of dominant species. Fire-caused mortality appeared to be spatially random, and therefore did not generally alter heterogeneous tree spatial patterns. Our results suggest that prescribed fire can bring about substantial changes to forest structure in old-growth mixed conifer forests in the Sierra Nevada, but that long-term observations are needed to fully describe some measures of fire effects.

Publication Year 2011
Title Long-term effects of prescribed fire on mixed conifer forest structure in the Sierra Nevada, California
DOI 10.1016/j.foreco.2010.12.013
Authors Phillip J. van Mantgem, Nathan L. Stephenson, Eric Knapp, Jon E. Keeley
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Forest Ecology and Management
Index ID 70003629
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Western Ecological Research Center