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Wildfire Effects on Understory Vegetation, Natural Regeneration, and Forest Floor Fuels in a Sierran Mixed Conifer Stand

Walker, Roger F., Fecko, Robert M., Johnson, Dale W., Miller, Watkins W.
Journal of sustainable forestry 2013 v.32 no.5 pp. 456-494
Abies concolor, Arabis, Ceanothus cordulatus, Ceanothus velutinus, Pinus jeffreyi, Purshia tridentata, conifers, forest litter, forests, fuel loading, fuels, herbs, natural regeneration, seedlings, sheet erosion, shrubs, trees, understory, wildfires, Sierra Nevada (California)
Wildfire effects on understory shrubs and herbs, regeneration of the seedling and sapling size classes, and downed and dead fuels were assessed in a mixed conifer stand located in the Lake Tahoe Basin in which California white fir (Abies concolor var. lowiana [Gord.] Lemm.) was most abundant but with Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev. & Balf.) also prevalent. In burned and unburned stand portions, prefire measurements served as a basis of comparison for the postfire measurements pertinent to each study component. Fire severely suppressed the understory vegetation, which was dominated by shrubs such as bush chinquapin (Chrysolepis sempervirens [Kellogg] Hjelmqvist) and antelope bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata [Pursh] DC.), while a tepid postfire recovery of most of the preexisting species in the burned stand portion was augmented by new ones, including shrubs such as snowbrush (Ceanothus velutinus Douglas ex Hook.) and whitethorn (Ceanothus cordulatus Kellogg) ceanothus and herbs such as Holboell's rockcress (Arabis holboellii Hornem.). Tree seedling abundance was also substantially reduced in the burned portion, but the postfire population was dominated by Jeffrey pine whereas white fir had been most prevalent originally. Sapling regeneration was eliminated from the burned stand portion regardless of species. Downed and dead fuel loading was severely diminished by the fire, especially regarding fine fuels, permitting subsequent sheet erosion to imperil new seedling regeneration. These results contribute to an understanding of the direction and pace of postwildfire succession on sites occupied by Sierra Nevada mixed conifer and similar forest cover types, which is critical in decisions concerning the need for, and extent of, postfire site rehabilitation measures.