Topographic Variation in Structure of Mixed-Conifer Forests Under an Active-Fire Regime

TitleTopographic Variation in Structure of Mixed-Conifer Forests Under an Active-Fire Regime
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2012
AuthorsLydersen, J, North, M
Start Page1134
Keywordsfire, technical reports and journal articles

Management efforts to promote forest resiliency as climate changes have often used historical forest structure and composition to provide general guidance for fuels reduction and forest restoration treatments. However, it has been difficult to identify what stand conditions might be fire and drought resilient because historical data and reconstruction studies are generally limited to accurate estimates only of large, live tree density and composition. Other stand features such as smaller tree densities, dead wood, understory structure, regeneration, and fuel loads have been difficult to quantify, estimate how they may vary across a landscape, or assess how they would be affected by fire under current climate conditions. We sampled old-growth, mixed-conifer forests with at least two low-intensity fires within the last 65 years in 150 plots at 48 sample sites ranging over 400 km of the Sierra Nevada. Recent fire history had the strongest influence on understory conditions with small tree density decreasing and shrub cover increasing with the increased intensity and frequency of fire associated with upper-slope and ridge-top locations. In contrast, stand structures associated with large, overstory trees such as total basal area, canopy cover, and the abundance of large snags and logs increased in topographic locations associated with more mesic, productive sites regardless of fire history. In forests with restored fire regimes, topography, fire and their interaction influence productivity and burn intensity, creating the structural heterogeneity characteristic of frequent-fire forests.