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John-Pascal Berrill, Christa M. Dagley, Yoon G. Kim, J. Morgan Varner
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Fuel Treatments & Effects

NRFSN number: 26330
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Quaking aspen (Populus tremuloides Michx.) stands throughout the western United States provide valuable ecosystem services but can be lost via succession from aspen to conifer. Forest managers are cutting conifers, but disposal of cut wood can be challenging in remote or sensitive areas. Piling and burning is being tested within aspen stands but ecosystem responses to this treatment are understudied. We assessed aspen tree mortality, tree regeneration, and understory vegetation after forest restoration thinning followed by pile burning in seven aspen-conifer stands around Lake Tahoe, California and Nevada, USA. Pile burning was conducted after cut wood had dried (1.5–7.5 years post cutting). Pile burning was more likely to kill aspen trees closer to piles regardless of tree size or pile size. Aspen regenerated rapidly inside the footprint of some burned piles, more often inside piles located in close proximity to other aspen, presumably by suckering from lateral roots beneath burned piles. Similarly, areas where higher densities of conifers were regenerating naturally were indicative of a greater likelihood for conifer regeneration inside pile footprints. Understory vegetation varied within and among study sites, and had similar vegetation cover and species richness inside pile footprints to vegetation in the vicinity of each pile. Overall, understory vegetation had mostly recovered after 2.5–8.5 years since pile burning. Thinning followed by burning of hand piles and smaller machine piles appears to be effective at promoting regeneration of aspen without lasting impact on understory vegetation. However, without further disturbance such as continued cutting and piling or use of prescribed fire, we caution that succession to conifer appears to continue, albeit slowly, via seedling regeneration.


Berrill J-P, Dagley CM, Kim YG, and Varner JM. 2024. Pile burning after conifer removal from aspen stands affects tree mortality, regeneration, and understory recovery. Forest Ecology and Management 553, 1 February 2024, 121602.

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