Volume 10 Issue 3  December 2014
Letter From the Editor
Photo by Jon Bates

By Jim Agee, Managing Editor

The newest issue of Fire Ecology, Issue 10(3), December 2014, has been published.  It is now available at its own website, www.fireecologyjournal.org, or it can be accessed from the AFE website, www.fireecology.org.

Issue 10(3) begins with the reprint of a classic article by Herbert Wright and Miron Heinselman, first published in 1973, that introduced a special issue of Quaternary Research.  It served as the introduction to a series of symposium papers defining the role of fire in the conifer forests of northern and western North America.  The paper highlighted ecological principles associated with the role of fire, and the article is introduced here by Martin Alexander.

Our research articles begin with one by Margolis and Ellis documenting the effect of prescribed fires on regeneration of quaking aspen in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA.  They found variable results dependent on conifer competition and browsing intensity that may alter future growth trajectories.  In eastern Oregon, USA, Bates and others compared vegetation recovery after prescribed fire and partial cutting of western juniper.  Five years after treatment, perennial bunchgrasses dominated two of the three sites studied, and on a third site they co-dominated with invasive annual grasses.  Winter burning and cut-only treatments were least effective at killing small junipers, and the authors concluded that juniper treatments are needed to recover sagebrush-steppe plant communities.  Morgan and others evaluated vegetation response after post-wildfire mulching and native grass seeding in dry forests of southeastern Washington, USA.  They compared species richness, diversity, and canopy cover of understory plants one to six years after application of wood strand mulch, wheat straw mulch, hydromulch with native seed, and native seed only, along with untreated sites.  Wood strand mulch treatments tended to have low cover of grasses and forbs, while wheat straw mulch treatments had highest cover of forbs and shrubs.  Seeded treatments had higher grass cover than other treatments or no treatment.  Such post-fire treatments alter the abundance and diversity of native perennial understory plants for one to six years post fire, and these effects could persist for decades.  In shrublands of southwestern Oregon, USA, Busby and Southworth investigated the effect of seeding bunchgrasses following mastication and prescribed fire.  After two years, native grass seeding appeared to be successful, but after seven years, bunchgrass cover had declined by 80%.  The authors concluded that seeding following treatment had a minimal effect, and highlight the importance of longer-term monitoring to evaluate such treatments.  Stambaugh and others synthesized multiple sources of fire history information to evaluate historical fire return intervals in Texas, USA.  They found that the majority of Texas plant communities historically had frequent fire regimes (intervals of 1 to 12 years) and that three independent spatial datasets were largely in agreement with these findings.  Such data will be helpful to guide fire planning and budget processes for the restoration and maintenance of fire-adapted landscapes in Texas.

In the forum section of this issue, Huffman argues that, at a global level, we need to regard fires as common and enduring ecosystem components.  She recommends holding a worldwide summit to discuss four less-discussed priorities concerning fire and climate change: ecological systems in which people depend on fire for survival and well-being; systems in which governments unwisely insist on command and control approaches to fire; places where peatlands are burning; and places where climate-driven changes in fire will cause type conversion.  Huffman proposes that fire ecologists mount a worldwide offensive to shape the future of fire in an era of climate change.  We hope you enjoy Issue 10(3)!

The Journal now has its own dedicated website:
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About the Cover:  
Prescribed burning in the fall (Sep) of a basin big sagebrush/bluebunch wheatgrass plant community to treat invading western juniper trees, Steens Mountain, Oregon, USA.  About one third of the trees are typically cut and allowed to dry prior to burning; these additional fuels assist the carrying of fire through woodlands to kill remaining live trees.
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Classic Article

The Ecological Role of Fire in Natural Conifer Forests of Western and Northern North America-Introduction, with an Introduction by Martin E. Alexander


Authors: Herbert E. Wright, Jr and Miron L. Heinselman


Forest fires have been the bane of forest managers, resource analysts, and the public ever since the timberlands of the Great Lakes area and the western mountains were opened for exploitation or designated for preservation. The psychological stage was set during the early years of commercial timber cutting, when escaped slash fires burned several towns to the ground, killed thousands of people, and destroyed the young regeneration and remnants of uncut forest on literally millions of acres. Whether the forest was to be cut for timber or set aside for preservation as a natural feature, it was assumed that fires were destructive and should be prevented at all costs.

Research Articles

Quaking Aspen Regeneration following Prescribed Fire in 

Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA

Prescribed fire is commonly used for restoration, but the effects of reintroducing fire following a century of fire exclusion are unknown in many ecosystems. We assessed the effects of three prescribed fires, native ungulate browsing, and conifer competition on quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) regeneration in four small groves (0.5 ha to 3.0 ha) in Lassen Volcanic National Park, California, USA, over an 11 yr period. The effects of fire on aspen regeneration density and height were variable within and among sites. 

Vegetation Recovery and Fuel Reduction after Seasonal Burning of Western Juniper

The decrease in fire activity has been recognized as a main cause of expansion of North American woodlands. Pi´┐Żon-juniper habitat in the western United States has expanded in area nearly 10-fold since the late 1800s. Woodland control measures using chainsaws, heavy equipment, and prescribed fire are used to restore sagebrush steppe plant communities. We compared vegetation recovery following cutting and prescribed fire on three sites in late Phase 2 (mid succession) and Phase 3 (late succession) western juniper (Juniperus occidentalis Hook.) woodlands in southeast Oregon.  

Vegetation Response after Post-Fire Mulching and Native Grass Seeding

Post-fire mulch and seeding treatments, often applied on steep, severely burned slopes immediately after large wildfires, are meant to reduce the potential of erosion and establishment of invasive plants, especially non-native plants, that could threaten values at risk. However, the effects of these treatments on native vegetation response post fire are little studied, especially beyond one to two years. We compared species richness, diversity, and percent canopy cover of understory plants one, two, three, four, and six years after immediate post-fire application of wood strand mulch, agricultural wheat straw mulch, hydromulch + seed with locally adapted native grasses, seed only with locally adapted native grasses with no mulch, and untreated (no mulch or grass seeding) after the 2005 School Fire in Washington, USA.  
View Article PDF

Minimal Persistence of Native Bunchgrasses Seven Years after Seeding following Mastication and Prescribed Fire in Southwestern Oregon, USA

Seeding of native grasses is widely used to restore plant communities and prevent establishment of introduced species following wildfire and prescribed burns. However, there is a lack of long-term data to evaluate the success of native grass seeding. Here, in the interior valley shrublands of southwestern Oregon, we resurveyed plots that had been masticated and burned, and then seeded with bunchgrasses seven years previously. The prescribed fires had resulted in bare ground that increased opportunities for bunchgrass germination as well as for invasion by introduced plants. 

Historical Pyrogeography of Texas, USA

Synthesis of multiple sources of fire history information increases the power and reliability of fire regime characterization. Fire regime characterization is critical for assessing fire risk, identifying climate change impacts, understanding ecosystem processes, and developing policies and objectives for fire management. For these reasons, we conducted a literature review and spatial analysis of historical fire intervals in Texas, USA, a state with diverse fire environments and significant fire-related challenges.  
View Article PDF

Forum: Issues, Management, Policy, and Opinions

Making a World of Difference in Fire and Climate Change


Author:Mary R. Huffman

Together with other stressors, interactions between fire and climate change are expressing their potential to drive ecosystem shifts and losses in biodiversity. Closely linked to human well-being in most regions of the globe, fires and their consequences should no longer be regarded as repeated surprise events. Instead, we should regard fires as common and enduring components of most terrestrial systems, including their social context.