There is concern that forest management activities such as chemical thinning may increase hazardous fuel loading and therefore increase risk of stand-replacing wildfire. Chemical thinning, often accomplished by frill treatment of unwanted trees, leaves trees standing dead for a time before they fall and become surface fuels. In coastal northern California, frill treatment is used as a forest rehabilitation treatment that removes tanoak (Notholithocarpus densiflorus
) to release merchantable conifers from excessive competition. We studied fuel bed depth and fuel loading after frill treatment of tanoak along a 16-year chronosequence that substituted space for time. The total depth of fuel bed was separated into woody fuels, litter, and duff. The height of each layer was variable and greatest on average in post-treatment year 5 after treated tanoak had begun to break apart and fall. Initially, the evergreen tanoak trees retained their foliage for at least a year after treatment. Five years after treatment, many tanoak had fallen and transitioned to become fine- and coarse woody debris. After 11 years, the larger pieces of down wood were mostly classified as rotten. After 16 years, the fuel loading appeared roughly equivalent to pre-treatment levels, however we did not explicitly test for differences due to potential confounding between time and multiple factors such as inter-annual climate variations and site attributes. Nevertheless, our data provide some insight into changes in surface fuel characteristics due to rehabilitation treatments. These data can be used as inputs for fire behavior modeling to generate indicative predictions of fire effects such as fire severity and how these change over time since treatment.
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