Date of this Version
Final Report: JFSP Project ID 10-1-01-16
Mechanical fuels treatments are being widely used in fire prone ecosystems where fuel loading poses a hazard, yet little research examining fuel dynamics, fire behavior, and ecological effects exists, especially in the southeastern US. In order to broaden our understanding of these treatments, effects of mechanical mastication ("mowing") were examined in a common pine ecosystem of the southeastern US Coastal Plain, where the post-mastication fuel environment is unique among ecosystems where mastication is being employed. Foliar litter dominates surface fuels after understory mastication in palmetto/gallberry pine flatwoods, however rapid recovery of shrubs quickly regains control over fire behavior. Treatments were effective at reducing flame heights during post-treatment prescribed burning in these sites, however compact surface fuels were observed to cause long-duration heating during laboratory burning. Overstory tree mortality observed following summer burning in mowed treatments may have resulted from combustion of the compact surface fuels beneath the shrub layer. Although temperature and humidity at the shrub level were minimally impacted, drier surface fuels existed in masticated sites where shrub cover was reduced, potentially exacerbating combustibility of the surface fuel layer. Treatments had little impact on understory vegetation communities or soil nutrients, however, observed reduction in saw palmetto may alter future groundcover, as slight increases in grass cover were observed. The fast recovery of understory vegetation and generally low impact to ecosystem attributes suggest resiliency of these pine flatwoods following mechanical treatments. However, their effectiveness at reducing fire hazard is likely short-lived. Treatment regimes that utilize prescribed burning to reduce post-mastication fuels will require special attention to treatment timing in order to ensure surface litter consumption, while minimizing potential impacts to the overstory.
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