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Synthesis Paper: Assessment of Research on Rangeland Fire as a Management Practice
- Limb, Ryan F., Fuhlendorf, Samuel D., Engle, David M., Miller, Richard F.
- Rangeland ecology & management 2016 v.69 no.6 pp. 415-422
- Conservation Effects Assessment Project, air quality, arthropods, drought, ecosystem management, ecosystems, fire behavior, fire hazard reduction, fire regime, fire suppression, fuels (fire ecology), grazing, information management, issues and policy, natural resources conservation, plant response, prescribed burning, rangelands, soil, temporal variation, wildfires, wildlife
- Rangelands are fire-dependent ecosystems severely altered through direct fire suppression and fuels management. The removal of fire is a dominant cause of ecological sites moving across thresholds with the majority of North American rangelands currently showing moderate or high departure from reference conditions. Recognizing the need to restore fire on rangelands and incorporate prescribed fire into management plans, the Natural Resource Conservation Service initiated the Conservation Effects Assessment Project (CEAP) to evaluate the validity current practices through peer-reviewed scientific literature. We updated the CEAP review and broadened the discussion of prescribed fire as a global management practice. We reviewed and summarized prescribed fire literature available through Web of Science using search terms in the title. The majority of literature (40%) evaluated plant responses to fire with fire behavior and management (29%), wildlife and arthropods (12%), soils (11%), and air quality (4%) evaluated less frequently. Generally, fire effects on plants are neutral to positive and the majority of negative responses lasted less than 2 years. Similarly, soil responses were recovered within 2 yr after burning. However, most studies did not report how long treatments were in place (62%) or the size of experimental units (52%). The experimental literature supporting prescribed burning is in need of greater managerial relevance that can be obtained by directly addressing spatial scale, temporal scale, and interaction with other disturbances, including drought and grazing. Reliance on information from single fires applied on small plots tracked for a relatively short time interval greatly constrains inferences and application to ecosystem management and information should be applied with caution. Therefore, conservation purposes need to incorporate temporal dynamics to the extent that this information is available. The complex interaction of scientific knowledge, social concerns, and variable policies across regions are major limitations to the successful and critical restoration of fire regimes.