Date of this Version
Final Report to the Joint Fire Science Program, Project Number: 03-3-2-06
Forest managers have begun to restore ecosystem structure and function in fire-prone ecosystems that have experienced fire exclusion, commodity based resource extraction, and extensive grazing during much of the 20th century. Mechanical thinning and prescribed burning are the primary tools for thinning dense stands and restoring pre-settlement forest structure, reducing the likelihood of devastating crown fires. Mechanical thinning can be costly when trees are nonmerchantable and prescribed burning can be risky unless fuel loadings are first reduced. Furthermore, stands that remain dense after commercial thinning can produce undesirable wildland fire- or even prescribed fire- effects on vegetation and soils. Land managers are interested in using mastication equipment (Fig. 1) for thinning nonmerchantable trees as a means of restoring structure and function to dry forest ecosystems. However, it is unknown how the addition of mechanically derived slash influences potential fire behavior and fire effects. The objectives of this project were to test the effectiveness of mastication effort (defined as time needed to break fuels into smaller pieces) to 1) thin dense stands of dry coniferous forest within historically frequent, low-severity fire regimes (Fig. 1) and 2) create surface fuel beds that produce prescribed fire behavior with positive effects on residual trees, understory vegetation, and soils. Specifically, we asked the following questions: (1) How does slash particle size and fuel bed depth affect fire intensity and severity? (2) How do different mastication efforts and subsequent prescribed fire affect overstory vegetation? (3) Does soil heating change from burning different types of masticated slash? and (4) What are the differences in production costs among levels of mastication effort?
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