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Individual Highlight

New Framework Guides Land Managers in Restoring Forests to Historic Conditions

Photo of Thicket of trees in a ponderosa pine forest located on the Long Valley Experimental Forest depicts unhealthy forest conditions. Richard T. Reynolds, USDA Forest Service.Thicket of trees in a ponderosa pine forest located on the Long Valley Experimental Forest depicts unhealthy forest conditions. Richard T. Reynolds, USDA Forest Service.Snapshot : Forest Service and university scientists and managers synthesized 100 years of published forestry science to help forest managers better understand the ecology of "frequent-fire" forests. This forest type, found throughout the western United States, historically experienced frequent, but low-severity surface fire events.The report provides a science-based framework that will assist land managers in developing management plans and practices to restore an uneven-aged forest structure with tree groups and grass-forb-shrub interspaces between the groups that characterized these forests before the introduction of intensive management in the 19th and 20th century. Returning frequent-fire forests to their historical species composition and structure will increase their resilience to fire, insects, disease and climate change.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Reynolds, Richard T.  
Research Location : Numerous forest sites in Arizona and New Mexico, Fort Collins, CO and Albuquerque, New Mexico
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2014
Highlight ID : 698

Summary

Today's western ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests-forests that historically experienced frequent low-severity surface fires-have undergone changes in their species composition and structure that increases their susceptible to severe, large-scale wildfires and insect and disease episodes. A new framework informs management to improve the resistance and resilience of these forests in the southwest to severe disturbances by restoring the species composition, structure, and spatial pattern of their vegetation. The framework recreates groups of fire-adapted tree species with interlocking crowns; grass-forb-shrub openings between tree groups; scattered individual trees within the grass-forb-shrub matrix; and, snags, logs, and woody debris. Restoring these elements facilitates the return of the types and frequencies of disturbances that these forests evolved with, lowering the probability of catastrophic loss and better positioning them to adapt to climate change.

Forest Service Partners

External Partners

  • Andrew D. Graves
  • Colorado State University/USDA Forest Service Rocky Mountain Research Station: Megan Matonis
  • Donald G. DeLorenzo
  • Patrick L. Jackson
  • Tessa Nicolet
  • USDA Forest Service Southwestern Regional Office: James A. Youtz
  • Northern Arizona University: Andrew J. Sanchez Meador