Main content area

Fire history from three species on a central Appalachian ridgetop

Hessl, Amy E., Saladyga, Tom, Schuler, Thomas, Clark, Peter, Wixom, Joshua
Canadian journal of forest research = 2011 v.41 no.10 pp. 2031-2039
Pinus resinosa, Quercus rubra, age structure, fire scars, fires, forests, land use, pastures, stand structure, West Virginia
The impact of settlement era fires on Appalachian forests was substantial, but whether these fires affected the extent of fire-adapted ridgetop plant communities is poorly understood. Here we present fire history and stand structure of an Appalachian ridgetop (Pike Knob, West Virginia) based on fire scars from three species (Pinus pungens Lamb., Pinus resinosa Soland., and Quercus rubra L.) and stand structure from two species (P. pungens and P. resinosa). Our research objectives are to determine (i) the degree to which the fire frequency on Pike Knob was affected by European American settlement (approximately 1780-1900) and (ii) how the history of fire on Pike Knob shaped the current age structure of P. resinosa and P. pungens. All three species documented fire activity beginning in the mid- to late 1800s and continuing into the middle of the 20th century, when pasture lands were most active. The majority of P. pungens and P. resinosa established during or shortly after the approximately 85-year period of fires (1868-1953), suggesting a strong influence of past land use on current forest composition. Ridgetop pine communities have been resilient to both the absence of fire and frequent fire, indicating that pine communities will also be resilient to modern fire management, whether fire is excluded or re-introduced.