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Category: Ecological Research

Title: Working Paper 36:

Author: Wildlife and Fire: Impacts of Wildfire and Prescribed Fire on Wildlife and Habitats in Southwestern Coniferous Forests.

Subject: Wildlife, Conifer Forest, Wildfire

Abstract: The southwestern United States has experienced over a century of fire suppression that has altered natural fire regimes and caused an increase in fuel loads and increased fire frequency, severity, intensity, and size of wildfires (Covington and Moore 1994, Moore et al. 1999, Swetnam et al. 2001). Long-term fire exclusion, livestock grazing, and management practices have resulted in more dense forest structure that is departed from its natural range of variability, and forests that once experienced frequent low intensity fires are now more susceptible to large scale, high intensity stand-replacing fires, drought, and insect attacks (Covington and Moore 1994, Moore et al. 1999, Allen et al. 2002, Schoennagel et al. 2004). Large intense wildfires can have substantial effects on native plants and animals and their habitats. Changes in vegetative structure and composition, cover type conversions, habitat fragmentation, and the creation of edge effects are some of the major impacts that large-scale fires can have on wildlife habitat. The return of fire-driven processes to dry coniferous forests in the Southwest can aid in restoring ecological processes, create ecologically important early successional habitats, and it helps maintain biodiversity of wildlife habitats (Brawn et al. 2001). Fire is natural disturbance that plays an important role in creating a mosaic of habitats and successional stages that support a suite of native plants and wildlife within a landscape (Angelstam 1998). A mosaic of habitat types at the landscape scale increases the complexity of landscape structure and composition, and increases diversity on multiple levels by providing multiple seral stages that many animals can use throughout their life cycle. Historical fire exclusion along with other management activities has reduced landscapescale heterogeneity by reducing the amount of firegenerated early successional forests and the complexity of habitats that were historically maintained by frequent low-severity fire (Noss et al. 2006a). Restoring and facilitating natural fire regimes can meet both restoration and conservation objectives, and return functional processes to our forests while reducing the risk of large catastrophic wildfires that impact wildlife species. Understanding how fire severity, extent, seasonality, spatial complexity, and post-fire forest conditions influence species response is important for predicting the effects of wildfire and management actions on wildlife. Site specific factors, disturbance history, and fire severity are important elements in understanding species abundance and distribution after fire events. This paper focuses on the use and effects of wildfire (natural ignition), prescribed fire (purposeful ignition), and restoration treatments (thinning and prescribed fire) on terrestrial fauna in dry coniferous forests primarily in the southwestern U.S.

Date: 2015

Type: Working Papers

Source: ERI - Working Papers

Identifier: 9p.

Publisher: Ecological Restoration Institute

Format: PDF

Language: English