Category: Ecological Research
Title: White Mountain Stewardship Program Monitoring Report
Author: Sensibaugh, M.B., * Chancellor, W.W., * Crouse, J.E. , * Huffman, D.W., * Springer, J.D., * Waltz, A.E.M.
Abstract: In 2014, the Ecological Restoration Institute (ERI) at Northern Arizona University was contracted by the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest and the White Mountain Stewardship Project (WMSP) Monitoring Board to address four of the prioritized ecological monitoring questions developed for the WMSP (Sitko and Hurteau 2010). The questions were: 1. Is there a difference between pre-treatment crown fire potential and post-treatment desired fire behavior across selected analysis areas? 2. What proportion of treated acres exhibited a change in Fire Regime Condition Class (FRCC)? 3. Are patch sizes of denser (i.e., untreated or lightly treated) areas connected? What is the range of areas and sizes of these patches? 4. Are exotics/invasive species present at landings and burn piles? The ERI worked closely with Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest staff to identify projects and obtain available maps, data, and other information to addresses these questions for WMSP treatments across six task orders (“projects”) completed in 2013 and 2014. Treatment effects were based on estimates of pre-treatment conditions (Question 1) and analysis of field data (Questions 1 and 4) as well as remotely sensed data derived from post-treatment imagery (Questions 2 and 3). This report summarizes findings related to the four monitoring questions. We also provide electronic files of project area maps, plot locations, plot photos, and raw field data archived on a separate compact disc. Analyses of field and remotely sensed data indicated the following: 1. In general, WMSP treatments resulted in reduced canopy fuel loading and potential fire behavior across the project areas. Although potential fire behavior was generally reduced by treatments, resulting stand structure was further interpreted in light of forest restoration goals. WMSP treatments effectively reduced potential fire behavior and appeared to restore more natural structural characteristics. Future treatments could more explicitly utilize NRV concepts such as tree spatial distribution, age structure, and species composition—obtained from site-specific pre-settlement evidence. 2. WMSP treatments implemented in 2013 and 2014 moved the landscape along a trajectory toward stands that are more similar to historic conditions. The changes are very small, which is expected at the rate treatments are being conducted. Most of the WMSP treatments occurred in the ponderosa pine forest type, which evolved with frequent fire and is currently in much denser conditions across the intermountain West today than historically. Treatments in these forests can have multiple benefits: fire risk reduction is a primary objective of WMSP, but restoration objectives can also be met with tree density reduction and the creation of openings for a more diverse and resilient understory plant community. 3. WMSP treatments retained untreated and lightly treated, higher canopy cover patches but these patches showed low connectivity across project areas. Although little information is available to guide restoration prescriptions at emulating natural landscape patterns, high cover patches may provide habitat for canopy dependent species such as tassel-eared squirrels, but retaining these patches may also compromise other restoration goals related to decreasing crown fire hazard, improving understory production, and enhancing soil function. 4. In answering the question of whether invasive plant species are found on landings and slash piles, we did find a very small number of plants/populations on these microsites, but we did not find evidence to indicate that these sites had conditions that were more favorable to establishment than any other type of microsite. Difficulty in retrospectively identifying slash piles and landings led us to develop a methodology wherein microsites were categorized where invasive plants were found. Microsite conditions included type of ground cover and amount of sunlight in the vicinity of non-native occurrences. Nearly all recorded occurrences of invasive plants were either in full sun or partial sun and on recently burned areas. No invasive plants were found in heavily shaded microsites. Fourteen percent of recorded occurrences of invasives were on roads or skid trails. Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) was the most widespread species. Our monitoring data indicate that most invasive plants in the WMSP are found in a gradient ranging from bare mineral soil to litter and in partial to full sun.
Source: ERI - Special Report
Publisher: Ecological Restoration Institute