Repeated application of fuel reduction treatments in the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA: implications for achieving management goals
Fire and resource managers of the southern Appalachian Mountains, USA, have many questions about the use of prescribed fire and mechanical treatments to meet various land management objectives. Three common objectives include restoration to an open woodland, oak regeneration, and fuel reduction. This paper provides information about reaching each of these three management objectives by using prescribed burning (B), mechanical fuel reduction (M), and a combination of both fire and mechanical treatment (MB). The southern Appalachian site of the National Fire and Fire Surrogate study has been burned three times and a mechanical treatment has been conducted twice since 2002. Stand structure was changed by each active treatment but restoration to an open woodland was not achieved by any. The MB treatment units developed the desired overstory structure but heavy sprouting of woody species in the understory prevented the establishment of a diverse herbaceous forest floor. Oak reproduction was increased by all active treatments, largely by sprouting of top-killed stems. The degree of fuel reduction differed by treatment. All treatments reduced the shrub layer, thus reducing the vertical fuel component. The B and MB treatments reduced most fuels and likely reduced the severity of a subsequent wildfire. We conclude that additional burning is required to meet each management objective, and that fires should be conducted more frequently, in different seasons, or in combination with other treatments.