Year Published: 2017
Description: Fire suppression and other factors have resulted in high wildfire risk in the western US, and prescribed burning can be an effective tool for thinning forests and reducing fuels to lessen wildfire risks. However, prescribed burning sometimes fails to substantially reduce fuels and sometimes damages and kills valuable, large trees. This study compared fuel reductions between spring and fall prescribed burns and tested whether removing (i.e., raking) fuels within 1 m of boles reduced fire damage to ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex Lawson & C. Lawson). In 2007 and 2008, raking was applied to alternating trees along 18 transects in central Oregon, USA. Fuels surrounding 292 trees were burned in fall 2010, and fuels surrounding 216 trees were burned in spring 2012. Both seasons of burn affected most fuel size classes similarly, with one exception being duff, which was more fully consumed in fall than in spring. Where fall burning occurred, raking reduced the percentage of dead cambium samples from 24.3 ±4.9% to 6.4 ±3.0% (point estimates ±95% confidence intervals), in addition to reducing bole scorch. Conversely, where spring burning occurred, injury of not-raked trees was milder, so raking did not have the potential to greatly reduce damage. Redistributing fuels away from boles would be more beneficial under relatively dry conditions when duff is prone to extensive smoldering. Our study and most other studies suggest that duff is, on average, drier in fall than in spring, so raking would tend to afford more protection from fall burns than from spring burns. The little tree mortality that occurred was split nearly evenly between raked trees (25) and not-raked trees (30), so raking did not appreciably increase survival in this study. However, the finding that raking reduced injury suggests that it may reduce mortality from more intense burns.