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Post-Fire Management in Southwestern Conifer Forests

Session at the August 3-6, 2020 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA)

Increasing incidence of large severe wildfires in conifer forests across the western United States, and particularly in the Southwest, is altering the landscape template for forest management. While management of unburned forests continues to be a priority for land managers seeking to restore heterogeneous forest structure and reduce fuels, an increasing fraction of southwestern conifer forests is represented by burned landscapes containing large patches of stand-replacing fire where most to all trees in a given area have been killed. These complex landscapes present unique social and ecological challenges: severely-burned areas represent hazards to water resources, often contain heavy fuels which can influence future fire dynamics, and contain a multitude of challenges for successful conifer regeneration. Conventional techniques for fuel management and tree planting in severely-burned landscapes sometimes include salvage logging, competing vegetation removal, and high-density planting. These are all resource-intensive activities that are being made more difficult by the increasing scale of severely-burned landscapes, increasing frequency of re-burning, and a warming climate which may limit opportunities for successful tree establishment.

This collection of webinars, originally presented at the 2020 Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society of America, highlights recent and ongoing research to address management challenges in complex burn mosaics within conifer forests of the southwest. We begin with a description of the social and ecological problems created by severely-burned landscapes (Bradley). We then discuss how burned landscapes are likely to respond to subsequent fire, and how re-burning may impact both the fuel matrix and the successful regeneration of a new cohort of adult trees (Thode; pdf presentation). Both reburn and regeneration dynamics are likely to interact with the distribution of live and dead trees and other fuels across the landscape, and so we consider how landscape context should inform management decisions regarding whether to plant or otherwise direct vegetation development in burned areas (Coop). Two subsequent talks (Chambers and Burney) will detail the tree planting process, first regarding new approaches to reforestation that include spatial distributions of planting and facilitation vs competition from competing vegetation, and second regarding the operational side of seedling production and outplanting and how various pinch points can impede managers’ ability to meet the increasing scale required for post-fire restoration. Finally, we synthesize the multiple facets of this session (Stevens) with a new burned area decision making framework that emphasizes a diverse portfolio of management options that strategically incorporates landscape variability and natural processes to maximize the potential for successful reforestation of at least a portion of southwestern conifer forests.

Presentation 1:  Anne Bradley 
“Social and Ecological Challenges of Severely-Burned Landscapes”
abstract / recording

Presentation 2:  Andrea Thode, Larissa Yocom, José M. Iniguez and Rachel Loehman  
“Managing for Subsequent Fires: Considering How Re-Burns Will Impact Forest Regeneration”
abstract  recording

Presentation 3:  Jonathan Coop, Collin Haffey, Jens Stevens and Kyle Rodman  
“Reforestation or Reorganization? How Landscape Context and Climate Can Inform Post-Fire Decision-Making”
abstract  / recording

Presentation 4:  Marin Chambers, Kyle Rodman and Teresa Chapman  
“Where and How We Plant Trees: Challenges to Successful Reforestation and Emerging Strategies on How to Achieve It”
abstract  recording

Presentation 5:  Owen Burney  
“Challenges in the Tree Planting Pipeline: From Seed to Nursery to Outplanting on Post-Fire Restoration Sites”
abstract  / recording

Presentation 6:  Jens Stevens  
“A Framework for Decision-Making In Post-Fire Management: Synthesis and New Directions”
abstract  recording