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Individual Highlight

A Science-Based Framework for Restoring Resiliency to Frequent-Fire Forests

Photo of Thicket of trees in a ponderosa pine forest located on the Long Valley Experimental Forest depicts unhealthy forest conditions. USDA Forest ServiceThicket of trees in a ponderosa pine forest located on the Long Valley Experimental Forest depicts unhealthy forest conditions. USDA Forest ServiceSnapshot : Today’s Western ponderosa pine and dry mixed-conifer forests historically experienced frequent low-severity surface fires andhave undergone changes in their species composition and structure that increase their susceptibility to severe, large-scale wildfires and insect and disease episodes. A new science-based framework proposes the use of fire-adapted tree species with interlocking crowns interspersed with grass-forb-shrub openings between tree groups to lower the probability of catastrophic wildfire and better position the forest to adapt to climate change.

Principal Investigators(s) :
Reynolds, Richard T.  
Research Location : Southwestern United States
Research Station : Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS)
Year : 2015
Highlight ID : 828


Forest Service and Northern Arizona university researchers 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. This new framework provides information to improve the resistance and resilience of these southwestern forests 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, thereby 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