Restoration Treatments Improve Overstory Tree Resistance Attributes and Growth in a Ponderosa Pine/Douglas-Fir Forest
Rocky Mountain Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Missoula, MT 59801, USA
W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, USA
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Forests 2020, 11(5), 574; https://doi.org/10.3390/f11050574
Received: 15 April 2020 / Revised: 15 May 2020 / Accepted: 18 May 2020 / Published: 21 May 2020
(This article belongs to the Section Forest Ecology and Management)
Research Highlights: This study provides much needed insight into the development of resistance to disturbance and growth dynamics of overstory trees in response to restoration-based fuel reduction, and will be useful to scientists and managers attempting to better grasp the relative merits of restoration treatment types. Background and Objectives: Restoration-based fuel reduction treatments are common in dry, fire-prone forests of the western United States. The primary objective of such treatments is to immediately reduce a stand’s crown fire hazard. However, the impact of these treatments on residual trees is relevant to assess their longevity and resistance to future disturbances. In this study, we evaluate the effects of restoration on retained overstory ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Lawson & C. Lawson) and Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) trees in western Montana, where treatments were experimentally implemented 13 years prior as part of the national Fire and Fire Surrogate study. Materials and Methods: We examined tree attributes in response to the following replicated treatments: thin-only, burn-only, thin + burn, and a no-action control. We analyzed three different tree attributes that confer resistance to common disturbances: height-to-diameter ratio (resistance to wind), bark thickness (resistance to surface fire), and growth efficiency (resistance to bark beetles). Results: Our models suggest that thinning (with or without burning) alters tree attributes relative to the control in a manner that may increase tree resistance to wind and snow breakage, surface fire, and biotic agents such as bark beetles. Further analysis of annual growth of ponderosa pine and Douglas-fir varied by treatment type: thinning-based restoration (thin-only and thin + burn) increased diameter growth for both species, crown length and width in ponderosa pine, and crown length in Douglas-fir relative to unthinned treatments. Burning (burn-only and thin + burn) did not significantly affect tree growth relative to unburned treatments. Conclusions: While low-severity prescribed burning treatments are often used for restoration and have various ecosystem benefits, this study demonstrates that thinning (alone or in addition to burning) produces more measureable, beneficial results to overstory tree disturbance resistance metrics and growth.