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Prescribed Fire and Post-Fire Seeding in Brush Masticated Oak-Chaparral: Consequences for Native and Non-Native Plants

Coulter, Celeste T., Southworth, Darlene, Hosten, Paul E.
Fire ecology 2010 v.6 no.2 pp. 60-75
Achnatherum, Bromus carinatus, Elymus glaucus, Festuca idahoensis, annuals, fire severity, forbs, fuels (fire ecology), grasses, indigenous species, introduced plants, landscapes, managers, mastication, perennials, prescribed burning, pretreatment, sowing, species diversity, spring, vegetation, wildfires, wildland-urban interface, Oregon
In fire-suppressed oak-chaparral communities, land managers have treated thousands of hectares by mechanical mastication to reduce hazardous fuels in areas of wildland-urban interface. The chipped debris, which decomposes slowly, can be burned to minimize wildfire hazard. The question is whether controlled burning of masticated debris results in loss of native plant species richness and abundance, allowing for gains in non-native species. We examined the response of vegetation to the seasonality of prescribed fire and to post-fire seeding in mechanically masticated oak-chaparral communities in the Applegate Valley of southwestern Oregon, USA. At the landscape level, treatments did not differ. At the site level, response of native and non-native species varied by site and treatment. Following prescribed fire, native species decreased in cover and increased in species richness; non-native species increased in cover and in species richness. Seven species that were not observed on pre-treatment plots appeared after burn treatments. Non-native annual grasses and forbs increased following both spring and fall burns. Among native species, annuals declined in cover while perennials increased slightly. Both annual and perennial natives increased in species richness following burn treatments. Community patterns at the site scale changed following all treatments. Seeded bunchgrasses, Lemmon’s needlegrass (Achnatherum lemmonii [Vasey] Barkworth), California brome (Bromus carinatus Hook. and Arn.), blue wildrye (Elymus glaucus Buckley), and Roemer’s fescue (Festuca idahoensis Elmer ssp. roemeri [Pavlick] S. Aiken), successfully established following fall prescribed fires, but not following spring prescribed fires or in unburned controls. Post-fire seeding and subsequent increased bunchgrass cover correlated with decreased non-native species. Prescribed low severity fire followed by post-fire seeding during the wet, cool season is a viable tool for introducing native bunchgrasses while controlling non-native species in mechanically masticated oak-chaparral in southwestern Oregon.