Historically logged forest sites are denser and potentially more prone to severe wildfires and insect outbreaks than unlogged, fire-excluded forests and should be considered a high priority for fuel-reduction treatments, according to a new University of Montana study.
Anna Sala and Cameron Naficy, the lead researchers in the study, published an article on these findings in the most recent issue of the journal Ecological Applications. Sala is a professor in UM’s Division of Biological Sciences, and Naficy graduated with a master’s degree from UM in 2008.
Sala and Naficy’s study compared logged, fire-excluded sites to unlogged, fire-excluded sites in forests mainly consisting of ponderosa pines. The study covered a broad region spanning the Continental Divide of the Northern Rockies, from central Montana to central Idaho.
The findings contradict much of the conventional wisdom defining current U.S. forest policy, which assumes that increases in forest density, which in turn increase the susceptibility to severe wildfires or insect outbreaks, are primarily caused by fire suppression.
“This is an important finding because it highlights that vegetation management can result in long-lasting changes to forests that are likely to affect how large-scale disturbances, such as wildfires or insect outbreaks, play out on the landscape well into the future,” Naficy said.
“Furthermore, it shows that previously harvested and unharvested forests have very different restoration needs and fire hazard potential,” Sala said. “This recognition should go a long way in helping land managers to prioritize restoration and fuel-reduction efforts where they are most likely to be successful.”
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