Long-term impacts of silvicultural treatments on wildland fuels and modeled fire behavior in the Ridge and Valley Province, Virginia (USA)


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Active forest management operations, such as regeneration harvests, can reduce hazardous fuel loads and alter fuel structure, potentially minimizing extreme wildfire conditions while maintaining ecosystem services, such as wildlife habitat and water quality. Regeneration harvests of differing intensities (clearcut, high-retention shelterwood, and low-retention shelterwood) were first applied between 1995 and 1996 to three sites on the George Washington-Jefferson National Forest in the Ridge and Valley Province of Virginia, USA. Over two decades after the clearcut was conducted and 11–12 years after the overwood was removed in the shelterwood stands, woody debris, litter, and duff masses and depths were quantified. One-hour fuel loads were greater in clearcut units than in high-retention shelterwood, low-retention shelterwood, or control units. Ten-hour fuel loads were greater in clearcut and low-retention shelterwood units than in high-retention shelterwood and control units. No significant differences in 100-hour fuels were observed between treatments. Control units contained more rotten and total 1000-hour fuels than all other treatments. The total woody debris load was less in the clearcut and high-retention shelterwood than in the low-retention shelterwood and control. High-retention shelterwood woody fuel depth was greater than clearcut woody fuel depth. Litter and duff loads were less in treated units than in the control units. Total fuel load (woody fuel load + litter load + duff load) was greater in the control than the silvicultural treatments. Litter depth did not differ between treatments, while duff depth was greater in the control than in the treated units. Using the computer modeling software, BehavePlus 6.0.0, these alterations to fuel loads and depths led to increased values in the control units for six fire behavior parameters. Predicted surface flame length in the low-retention shelterwood was the only modeled value that was not less than control values. Overall, these results indicated that harvest intensity and timing may have long-term effects on down and dead woody fuels, forest floor depth, and potential fire behavior. Clearcutting reduced fire behavior most, followed by the high-retention shelterwood system. The potential differences in slash and debris generated by varying shelterwood systems may impact long-term fuel and fire dynamics.



Forestry, 05 Environmental Sciences, 06 Biological Sciences, 07 Agricultural and Veterinary Sciences