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Wildfire and Spatial Patterns in Forests in Northwestern Mexico: The United States Wishes It Had Similar Fire Problems

Scott L Stephens, ESPM Department University of California, Berkeley
Danny L. Fry, ESPM Department University of California, Berkeley
Ernesto Franco-Vizcaíno, Departamento de Biología de la Conservación

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Abstract

Knowledge of the ecological effect of wildfire is important to resource managers, especially from forests in which past anthropogenic influences, e.g., fire suppression and timber harvesting, have been limited. Changes to forest structure and regeneration patterns were documented in a relatively unique old-growth Jeffrey pine-mixed conifer forest in northwestern Mexico after a July 2003 wildfire. This forested area has never been harvested and fire suppression did not begin until the 1970s. Fire effects were moderate especially considering that the wildfire occurred at the end of a severe, multi-year (1999-2003) drought. Shrub consumption was an important factor in tree mortality and the dominance of Jeffrey pine increased after fire. The Baja California wildfire enhanced or maintained a patchy forest structure; similar spatial heterogeneity should be included in US forest restoration plans. Most US forest restoration plans include thinning from below to separate tree crowns and attain a narrow range for residual basal area/ha. This essentially produces uniform forest conditions over broad areas that are in strong contrast to the resilient forests in northern Baja California. In addition to producing more spatial heterogeneity in restoration plans of forests that once experienced frequent, low-moderate intensity fire regimes, increased use of US wildfire management options such as wildland fire use as well as appropriate management responses to non-natural ignitions could also be implemented at broader spatial scales to increase the amount of burning in western US forests.

Key words

Baja California; forest resistance; forest structure; Jeffrey pine; mixed conifer; ponderosa pine; regeneration; resilience; Sierra San Pedro Martir; spatial heterogeneity.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087