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Individual Highlight

Insights from a 250-year history of fire in the Appalachian Plateau of Ohio and Kentucky

Photo of A cross-section of a fire-scarred yellow pine, collected at Shawnee State Forest, Ohio.  This tree established in 1865 and had seven fire scars, indicated by arrows, dating from 1888 to 1941. A cross-section of a fire-scarred yellow pine, collected at Shawnee State Forest, Ohio. This tree established in 1865 and had seven fire scars, indicated by arrows, dating from 1888 to 1941. Snapshot : In many eastern U.S. forests, undesirable shifts in tree species abundance are occurring. For oaks and pines, it is widely believed that the decreased frequency of fire over the last 75-100 years has played a major role in their decline.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Hutchinson, Todd 
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2017
Highlight ID : 1229

Summary

A better understanding of historic fire regimes in the eastern U.S. can help guide ecological restoration in today’s forests and help ensure that oak-pine forests are sustained. In collaboration with the Missouri Tree-Ring Laboratory, Forest Service scientists documented the fire history at two sites by noting fire-scars in tree rings in two species of yellow pine: shortleaf and pitch pine. Results of the tree ring analysis, or dendrochronology, showed fires occurred on average every 4 to 5 years from the mid-to-late 1700s to 1930 on the sites. At Hatton Ridge, Daniel Boone National Forest, 38 fires occurred from the period 1742 to 1930, at an average frequency of one fire every 5 years. The first fire occurred in 1752. Sixty miles to the northeast, in the Shawnee State Forest, 34 fires occurred from the period 1755 to 1930, averaging one fire every 4 years. At both sites, the periodic fires essentially ceased after fire suppression began in the 1920s. Today, at both sites, living pines are rare in the forest canopy and pine regeneration is absent. These research results suggest that frequent prescribed fire, likely coupled with other actions, will be required to sustain the declining oak-pine forests in this region.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

 
  • Michael Stambaugh, University of Missouri

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