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Wildfire, fuels reduction, and herpetofaunas across diverse landscape mosaics in northwestern forests

January 1, 2004

The herpetofauna (amphibians and reptiles) of northwestern forests (U.S.A.) is diverse, and many species are locally abundant. Most forest amphibians west of the Cascade Mountain crest are associated with cool, cascading streams or coarse woody material on the forest floor, which are characteristics of mature forests. Extensive loss and fragmentation of habitat resulted from logging across approximately 50% of old-growth forests in northern California and approximately 80% of stands in Oregon and Washington. There is a complex landscape mosaic and overlap of northern and southern biotic elements in the Klamath-Siskiyou Region along the Oregon and California border, creating a biodiversity hotspot. The region experiences many low-severity fires annually, punctuated by periodic major fires, including the Biscuit fire, the largest in North America in 2002. In the fire's northern portion, severe fire occurred on >50% of stands of young, managed trees but on only about 25–33% of old-growth stands. This suggests that the legacy of timber harvest may produce fire-prone stands. Calls for prescribed fire and thinning to reduce fuel loads will remove large amounts of coarse woody material from forests, which reduces cover for amphibians and alters nutrient inputs to streams. Our preliminary evidence suggests no negative effects of wildfire on terrestrial amphibians, but stream amphibians decrease following wildfire. Most reptiles are adapted to open terrain, so fire usually improves their habitat. Today, the challenge is to maintain biodiversity in western forests in the face of intense political pressures designed to 'prevent' catastrophic fires. We need a dedicated research effort to understanding how fire affects biota and to proactively investigate outcomes of fuel-reduction management on wildlife in western forests.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2004
Title Wildfire, fuels reduction, and herpetofaunas across diverse landscape mosaics in northwestern forests
DOI 10.1111/j.1523-1739.2004.00522.x
Authors R. Bruce Bury
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Biology
Series Number
Index ID 1016285
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Forest and Rangeland Ecosystem Science Center