Fuel characterization in the southern Appalachian Mountains: an application of landscape ecosystem classification
Prescribed fire has been widely used in the south-eastern United States to meet forest management objectives, but has only recently been reintroduced to the southern Appalachian Mountains. Fuel information is not available to forest managers in this region and direct measurement is often impractical owing to steep, remote topography. The objective of the present study was to determine whether landscape ecosystem classification (LEC) site units support different types and amounts of fuel in the Chauga Ridges, a subregion of the Blue Ridge Mountain Province. Ecosystem classification identifies vegetation assemblages that are the expressive result of soils, physiography and vegetation, and recur predictably on the landscape. Four fuel complexes were identified using LEC units and field measurements of fuel characteristics. Fuel bed depth, duff (Oe+Oa) thickness, 1000-h fuel loading, and Rhododendron maximum, R. minus, and Vaccinium spp. ground cover were discriminating fuel characteristics of xeric, intermediate, submesic, and mesic site units. Discriminant function analysis provided an overall 64% cross-validation success rate using 138 undisturbed, randomly located plots. This method of characterizing fuel complexes may also be possible in other forested ecosystems where LECs or other ecological vegetation classifications have been developed.