Authored by D.W. Peterson; Published 2016
Post-fire forest management commonly requires accepting some negative ecological impacts from management activities in order to achieve management objectives. Managers need to know, however,
whether ecological impacts from post-fire management activities are transient or cause long-term ecosystem degradation. We studied the long-term response of understory vegetation to two post-fire logging
treatments – commercial salvage logging with and without additional fuel reduction logging – on a long-term post-fire logging experiment in northeastern Oregon, USA. We sampled understory plant cover
and species diversity on 10–11 sampling plots within each of nine experimental treatment units to see if post-fire logging treatments produced any lasting effects on understory plant cover, species diversity,
community composition, or exotic species cover. Post-fire logging treatments produced no significant effects on understory vegetation cover, diversity, or community composition 15 years after treatment.
We found no significant treatment effects on graminoid, forb, woody plant, or exotic plant cover and species richness, and differences among treatment means were generally small. Differences in treatment
means were larger at the individual species level, but were only statistically significant for one native grass, California brome (Bromus carinatus), which responded differently to the two logging treatments.
Multivariate analysis of understory plant communities across 91 sample plots found two major gradients in understory plant community composition, one correlated with regenerating forest (sapling) density
and one correlated with residual overstory tree density, suggesting that initial fire severity (tree mortality) and post-fire regeneration may have greater long-term impacts on post-fire understory vegetation
than post-fire logging. This study demonstrates that understory vegetation can be resilient to post-fire logging, particularly when best management practices, like logging over snow, are used to limit damage
to soils and understory vegetation. Further research is needed to establish the generality of our results and to identify sources of variability in understory plant community responses to wildfire and postfire
logging. If further research confirms our findings, post-fire logging debates will be able to focus more on how to mitigate short-term disturbance impacts and manage fire-killed trees to meet wildlife habitat,
fuel reduction, and economic objectives, and less on concerns over long-term ecosystem degradation.