Timing fire to minimize damage in managing oak ecosystemsThis article is part of a larger document. View the larger document here.
The long history of fire in North America spans millennia and is recognized as an important driver in the widespread and long-term dominance of oak species. Early European settlers intensified the occurrence of fire from about 1850 to 1950, with dates varying by region. This resulted in much forest damage and gained fire a negative reputation. The lack of fire for the past 50 years due to suppression programs is now indicted as a major cause of widespread oak regeneration failures. Alarms are sounding for the continued loss of oak forests. The use of prescribed fire is increasing in forest management and ecosystem restoration. An understanding of fire effects on trees can provide the basis for the silviculture of restoring and sustaining oak ecosystems. We present an overview of fire-tree wounding interactions, highlight important determinants of fire injury and damage, and discuss several practical situations where fire can be used to favor oak while minimizing damage and devaluation of the forest. We also identify stages in stand development, regeneration methods, and management objectives for which fire has the potential of causing substantial damage and alternative practices should be preferred.