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Historical (1860) forest structure in ponderosa pine forests of the northern Front Range, Colorado

Posted date: October 05, 2015
Publication Year: 
Authors: Brown, Peter M.; Battaglia, Mike A.Fornwalt, Paula J.; Gannon, Benjamin; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Julian, Chad; Cheng, Antony S.
Publication Series: 
Scientific Journal (JRNL)
Source: Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 45: 1462-1473.


Management of many dry conifer forests in western North America is focused on promoting resilience to future wildfires, climate change, and land use impacts through restoration of historical patterns of forest structure and disturbance processes. Historical structural data provide models for past resilient conditions that inform the design of silvicultural treatments and help to assess the success of treatments at achieving desired conditions. We used dendrochronological data to reconstruct nonspatial and spatial forest structure at 1860 in fourteen 0.5 ha plots in lower elevation (∼1900–2100 m) ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Douglas ex P. Lawson & C. Lawson) forests across two study areas in northern Colorado. Fires recorded by trees in two or more plots from 1667 to 1859 occurred, on average, every 8–15 years depending on scale of analysis. The last fire recorded in two or more plots occurred in 1859. Reconstructed 1860 stand structures were very diverse, with tree densities ranging from 0 to 320 trees·ha−1, basal areas ranging from 0.0 to 17.1 m2·ha−1, and quadratic mean diameters ranging from 0.0 to 57.5 cm. All trees in 1860 were ponderosa pine. Trees were significantly aggregated in 62% of plots in which spatial patterns could be estimated, with 10% to 90% of trees mainly occurring in groups of two to eight (maximum, 26). Current stands based on living trees with a diameter at breast height of ≥4 cm are more dense (range, 175–1010 trees·ha−1) with generally increased basal areas (4.4 to 23.1 m2·ha−1) and smaller trees (quadratic mean diameters ranging from 15.7 to 28.2 cm) and contain greater proportions of Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii (Mirb.) Franco) and Rocky Mountain juniper (Juniperus scopulorum Sarg.). This is the first study to provide detailed quantitative metrics to guide restoration prescription development, implementation, and evaluation in these and similar ponderosa pine forests in northern Colorado.


Brown, Peter M.; Battaglia, Michael A.; Fornwalt, Paula J.; Gannon, Benjamin; Huckaby, Laurie S.; Julian, Chad; Cheng, Antony S. 2015. Historical (1860) forest structure in ponderosa pine forests of the northern Front Range, Colorado. Canadian Journal of Forest Research. 45: 1462-1473.