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Study Finds Prescribed Fire has Minor Effect on Timber Quality

Photo of Basal fire scar showing demonstrating wound healing stages from multiple fire events.Basal fire scar showing demonstrating wound healing stages from multiple fire events.Snapshot : Prescribed fire can greatly improve regeneration of native tree species in the midwest and northeast, but what are the impacts on residual hardwood timber and wood product recovery? An unprecedented research project across nine counties in Indiana yielded much-needed answers.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Wiedenbeck, Janice (Jan) K. 
Research Location : Hoosier National Forest
Research Station : Northern Research Station (NRS)
Year : 2019
Highlight ID : 1616

Summary

In the midwest, occasional wildfire shaped the composition of the landscape’s vegetation, including trees. Today, low-intensity surface fire is prescribed in eastern North American hardwood stands prior to overstory harvest to improve regeneration and recruitment of oak and other fire-tolerant and fire-adapted species. Some forest managers and timber buyers fear that use of prescribed fire may reduce timber value. USDA Forest Service researchers at the agency's Northern Research Station and partners addressed this concern by inventorying overstory trees in 54 oak-dominated stands on the Hoosier National Forest that have varied prescribed fire histories and aspects to document the extent of prescribed fire damage. The researchers determined the relative loss of timber volume for each stand and the proportion of trees that had tree grade reductions ascribed to the prescribed fire. They found that, generally, as a stand received more prescribed fires, more trees were damaged, the relative volume lost increased, and a higher proportion of trees declined in grade. In absolute terms, burned stands experienced less than 10 percent saw timber volume loss, regardless of the number of prescribed fires and aspect. Less than 3 percent of trees had reduced grade because of prescribed fire. Grade and volume reductions varied by species. These results suggest that prescribed fire has a minor economic impact on standing timber, particularly when timber is harvested within two decades of the first fire.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Chris Thornton, Hoosier N
  • Dr. Dan Dey, NRS
  • Dr. Tom Schuler, WO
  • Joint Fire Science Program
  • Oak Woodlands & Fires Consortium
  • Purdue