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Characterization of Fuel before and after a Single Prescribed Fire in an Appalachian Hardwood Forest

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Improved understanding of how fuel loads and prescribed fire interact in Appalachian hardwood forests can help managers evaluate the impacts of increased use of prescribed fire in the region. The objective of this study was to characterize fuel loads before and after a single late-winter/early spring prescribed fire and after autumn leaf fall. A repeated measures split-plot design was used to examine dead and down fuels by treatment, sampling time, and landscape position. Preburn mean fuel mass was 40.5 Mg/ha with the duff (Oea) comprising the largest component (19.5 Mg/ha; 48%), followed by large (more than 7.6 cm in diameter) downed logs (9.6 Mg/ha; 24%). Fuel mass was similar across landscape positions; however, duff depth was greater on subxeric compared with intermediate and submesic landscape positions. Burning reduced litter mass (Oi; P < 0.001) and duff depth (P = 0.01). Changes in woody fuels (1-, 10-, 100-, and 1,000-hour) and duff mass were not statistically significant. Post–leaf fall fuel masses did not differ from preburn masses. Thus, a single prescribed burn did not accomplish significant fuel reduction. However, significant declines in duff depth and fuel bed continuity may limit the spread of fire beyond leaf fall and increase potential for soil erosion. This study contributes to the dialogue regarding the use of fire in the Appalachian forest region and impacts on fuel loads.

Keywords: duff; forest floor; fuel continuity; landscape position; litter

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2008-05-01

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  • Each regional journal of applied forestry focuses on research, practice, and techniques targeted to foresters and allied professionals in specific regions of the United States and Canada. The Southern Journal of Applied Forestry covers an area from Virginia and Kentucky south to as far west as Oklahoma and east Texas.
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