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Lessons learned from prescribed fire in ponderosa pine forests of the southern Sierra Nevada


Bagne, Karen E.; Purcell, Kathryn L. 2009. Lessons learned from prescribed fire in ponderosa pine forests of the southern Sierra Nevada. In: Rich, T. D.; Arizmendi, C.; Demarest, D.; Thompson, C., eds. Tundra to tropics: Connecting birds, habitats and people; proceedings of the 4th international Partners in Flight conference; February 13-16 2008; McAllen, TX. Partners in Flight: 679-690.

Prescribed fire is a commonly used management tool in fire-suppressed ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests, but effects of these fires on birds are largely unstudied. We investigated both direct and indirect impacts on breeding birds in ponderosa pine forests of the southern Sierra Nevada where fires were applied in the spring. Following prescribed fire, we found that the largest losses of snags, including the large ponderosa pine snags preferred for nesting, were during the first application of fire after a long fire free interval, while net losses after the second fire application were similar to those in unburned areas. Hardwood trees, primarily oaks, co-occur with ponderosa pines in these forests and were preferred as nesting substrates. Burning may increase recruitment of shade intolerant oaks (Quercus spp.) and pines, which is low in the current closed canopy conditions. Burning may also lead to post-fire changes in habitat use, but we found little apparent response in territory placement to prescribed burning by a resident species. During spring fire applications, direct mortality of eggs and nestlings is of concern. We documented low nest mortality and observed continued breeding activities during burning even when up to 85% of the area surrounding the nest was burned. Based on 1600 nests observed over nine years, May and June were the months when most nesting activity occurred. Overall, we found few negative impacts and note that essential habitat components, such as oaks and large ponderosa pines, may depend on reintroducing fire. Importantly, managers can reduce negative impacts by protecting preferred nesting snags and adjusting timing in relation to breeding activities.

Keywords: birds, Hutton's Vireo, prescribed fire, Sierra Nevada, snags


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Title: RMRS Other Publications: Lessons learned from prescribed fire in ponderosa pine forests of the southern Sierra Nevada
Electronic Publish Date: January 26, 2010
Last Update:
January 26, 2010

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