Sustain Our Nation's Forests and Grasslands

Study finds prescribed fire effects on timber volume negligible

Forest Service employee inspecting fire scarred tree
A fire-scarred tree on the Mark Twain National Forest. USDA Forest Service photo Jan Wiedenbeck.

INDIANA – For forest managers in oak-dominated ecosystems in the eastern United States, perpetuating oak often requires the use of prescribed fire. But concern about reducing the value of overstory oak makes some managers wary of using fire as a management tool. A team of scientists from USDA Forest Service’s Northern Research Station and Purdue University’s Department of Forestry and Natural Resources, Hardwood Tree Improvement and Regeneration Center, found that when it comes to oak regeneration, the effects of wildfire and prescribed fire are not the same.

Research on the Hoosier National Forest in Indiana found that low-intensity prescribed fire resulted in tree wounding that reduced a stand’s standing sawtimber volume by less than 5 percent and had negligible effect on its average tree grade. While sawtimber volume loss could be higher on drier sites, this is only seen after multiple fires.  
To protect a tree’s veneer-quality, managers can take steps to protect trees from prescribed fire or plan to harvest those trees within 10 years after the fire.

Published in the journal Forest Science, “Effect of Prescribed Fire on Timber Volume and Grade in the Hoosier National Forest” by Jan Wiedenbeck, a project leader and research forest products technologist with the Northern Research Station with lead author Shannon Stanis and Mike Saunders of Purdue. The research is supported, in part, by the Joint Fire Science Program.