Category: Ecological Research
Title: Pinyon-Juniper Fire Regime: Natural Range of Variability
Author: * Huffman, D.W. , * Fule, P.Z. , * Pearson, K.M. , * Crouse, J.E. , * Covington, W.W.
Subject: Pinyon-Juniper, Fire effects
Abstract: In this study, we used a variety of methods to quantify and describe historical patterns of fire and forest structure in two pinyon-juniper ecosystems of the Southwest. Sites were located on the Kaibab National Forest in Arizona, south of Grand Canyon National Park (Tusayan), and on the Carson National Forest in New Mexico, north of Espanola (Canjilon). Methodological approaches included analysis of fire scars, contemporary forest structure, fire evidence, modern fire records, and forest reconstruction. GIS surface maps, constructed using inverse distance weighted interpolation, were used to assess spatial patterns of fire and forest structure. Results indicated distinct fire histories and recent forest changes at the two sites. At Tusayan, surface fires burned historically at frequencies of 7.2-7.4 years (Weibull median probability) in canyons and draws dominated by ponderosa pine. On uplands dominated by pinyon-juniper communities, longer point fire intervals suggested fires occurred at a mean frequency of 41.6 years. Point intervals stratified by species indicated longer return periods for Utah juniper than pinyon or ponderosa pine. Fire evidence in the form of charred tree structures was ubiquitous at the site and there was no clear relationship between stand age and fire evidence. Live, old trees (300 yr) were prevalent and averaged 26 trees per hectare (TPH). Stands were all ages up to 400 yr and patch sizes were generally small (30 ha). Reconstructions showed a moderate overall increase (39(percent)) in stand density since the late 19th century. Ponderosa pine increases were responsible for the majority of recent structural changes although pinyon density also had apparently increased. We found no evidence of extensive stand replacing fire over the last 400 years at Tusayan and concluded that the historical pattern has been one of frequent surface fires in ponderosa pine communities and small severe fires on pinyon-juniper uplands. At Canjilon, fire scar analysis showed longer mean fire intervals (81.1 yr), suggesting that infrequent crown fires or severe surface fires were an important component of the historical regime. Like Tusayan, charred structures were found across the Canjilon site, although they appeared to be more abundant at lower elevations where stands ages were younger. Few live old trees (300 yr) were found at the site (4.2 TPH). The site dominated by stands in the 200-250-yr and 250-300-yr age classes. Mean patch sizes for stands of these age classes were 24 and 79 ha, respectively. Reconstructions showed relatively greater increases in tree density (61(percent)) with Rocky Mountain juniper and pinyon pine both showing positive changes since the late 19th century. Evidence of stand replacing fire was seen along the eastern edge of the study site and young trees appeared to be encroaching into previously open areas, particularly around big sagebrush meadows. Woodland treatments that may parallel historical patterns of fire and forest structure at these sites include targeted tree thinning and/or use of prescribed fire to create canopy openings of various sizes.
Source: ERI Research Progress Report
Publisher: NAU Ecological Restoration Institute, http://www.eri.nau.edu