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Changes in Forest Structure After a Large, Mixed-Severity Wildfire in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Black Hills, South Dakota, USA

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We evaluated changes in forest structure related to fire severity after a wildfire in ponderosa pine forests of the Black Hills, South Dakota, where 25% burned at low, 48% at moderate, and 27% at high severity. We compared tree mortality, fine (FWD) and coarse woody debris (CWD) and tree regeneration in areas burned under different severity. With low severity, mortality was limited to small trees (<15 cm dbh) with no reduction in basal area (BA) compared with unburned areas. FWD and CWD were 60% less than the unburned forest. With moderate severity, 100% mortality of small trees and significant large tree mortality resulted in an 50% reduction in BA and an open stand structure dominated by a few large trees. After 5 years, FWD and CWD recovered to unburned levels. With high severity, a lack of seed source makes regeneration unlikely. After 5 years, FWD equaled levels in unburned stands and CWD loads exceeded the unburned forest by 74%. The future landscape will be a mosaic of patches with forest structures determined by developmental trajectories set in motion by different fire severities. There will be patches of fully stocked, single canopy forest, multistory forest, and persistent grass- and shrub-dominated communities. High fuel loads in moderate and high severity areas remain a concern for management as does the lack of regeneration in high severity areas.
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Keywords: Pinus ponderosa; fire effects; fire severity; mixed-severity fire; postfire recovery

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 June 2008

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