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Variability in Fire Frequency and Forest Composition in Canada's Southeastern Boreal Forest: A Challenge for Sustainable Forest Management

Yves Bergeron, Universite du Quebec a Montreal
Pierre J.H. Richard
Christopher Carcaillet
Sylvie Gauthier
Mike Flannigan, Canadian Forest Service
Yves T Prairie

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Abstract

Because some consequences of fire resemble the effects of industrial forest harvesting, forest management is often considered as a disturbance having effects similar to those of natural disturbances. Although the analogy between forest management and fire disturbance in boreal ecosystems has some merit, it is important to recognize that it has limitations. First, normal forest rotations truncate the natural forest stand age distribution and eliminate over-mature forests from the landscape. Second, in the boreal mixedwoods, natural forest dynamics following fire may involve a gradual replacement of stands of intolerant broadleaf species by mixedwood and then softwood stands, whereas current silvicultural practices promote successive rotations of similarly composed stands. Third, the large fluctuations observed in fire frequency during the Holocene limit the use of a single fire cycle to characterize natural fire regimes. Short fire cycles generally described for boreal ecosystems do not appear to be universal; rather, shifts between short and long fire cycles have been observed. These shifts imply important changes in forest composition at the landscape and regional levels. All of these factors create a natural variability in forest composition that should be maintained by forest managers concerned with the conservation of biodiversity. One avenue is to develop silvicultural techniques that maintain a spectrum of forest compositions over the landscape.

Key words

fire regime; boreal forest; mixedwood; holocene vegetation; sustainable forestry; management for biodiversity.
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Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087