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Fire exclusion as a disturbance in the temperate forests of the USA: Examples from longleaf pine forests

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Forest fires are a disturbance where the effects can range from benign to extreme devastation within a given ecosystem. The stage of stand development coupled with prior management dictates the amount and composition of potential fuels. Thus, fire policy exerts a strong influence on fire effects. Changes in cultural acceptance and use of fire typically drive fire policy. This linkage is perhaps exemplified by America's 300 year love/hate relationship with this powerful natural force. This article uses the four stages of stand development (stand initiation, stem exclusion, understory reinitiation and old-growth), as described by Oliver and Larson (1996), to present opportunities and constraints to fire use, and management options are suggested. Using a selective review of research in the USA that emphasizes the longleaf pine ecosystem in the south-east, the focus is on three themes presented from the viewpoint of a resource manager trying to attain a specific result. First, some high points in the history of fire in America and its ecological ramifications on the landscape are outlined, using examples to illustrate key concepts of behavior, intensity and periodicity. Secondly, examples are given of how people have sought to exclude fire from the landscape, often with disastrous consequences. Thirdly, the topic of prescribed fire in an ecosystem maintenance and restoration role is touched on. Some challenges associated with reintroducing fire into areas where past fire policy dictated its exclusion are also related.
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Keywords: Fire behavior; fire effects; fire policy; longleaf pine; restoration; stand dynamics; suppression

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: USDA, Forest Service, North Central Research Station, Forest Inventory and Analysis Program, St Paul, Minnesota, USA 2: USDA Forest Service, Southern Research Station, Athens, Georgia, USA (retired)

Publication date: 2005-10-01

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