A Review on the Dynamics of Prescribed Fire, Tree Mortality, and Injury in Managing Oak Natural Communities to Minimize Economic Loss in North America
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 and oak natural communities. Frequent wildfires from about 1850 to 1950 resulted in much forest damage, and gained fire a negative reputation. The lack of fire for the past nearly 100 years due to suppression programs is now indicted as a major cause of widespread oak regeneration failures and loss of fire-dependent natural communities. 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 recommend preferred alternative practices.