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Conserving old-growth forest diversity in disturbance-prone landscapes.Author(s): Thomas A. Spies; Miles A. Hemstrom; Andrew Youngblood; Susan Hummel
Source: Conservation Biology. 20(2): 351-362
Publication Series: Scientific Journal (JRNL)
PDF: Download Publication (489 KB)
DescriptionA decade after its creation, the Northwest Forest Plan is contributing to the conservation of old growth forests on federal land. However, the success and outlook for the plan are questionable in the dry provinces, where losses of old growth to wildfire have been relatively high and risks of further loss remain. We summarize the state of knowledge of old-growth forests in the plan area, identify challenges to conserve them, and suggest some conservation approaches that might better meet the goals of the plan. Historically, old growth forests in these provinces ranged from open, patchy stands, maintained by frequent low-severity fire, to a mosaic of dense and open stands maintained by mixed-severity fires. Old-growth structure and composition were spatially heterogeneous, varied strongly with topography and elevation, and were shaped by a complex disturbance regime of fire, insects, and disease. With fire suppression and cutting of large pines (Pinus spp.) and Douglas-firs (Pseudotsuga menziesii [Mirbel] Franco), old-growth diversity has declined and dense understories have developed across large areas. Challenges to conserving these forests include a lack of definitions needed for planning of fire-dependent old-growth stands and landscapes, and conflicts in conservation goals that can be resolved only at the landscape level. Fire suppression has increased the area of the dense, older forest favored by Northern Spotted Owls (Strix occidentalis caurina) but increased the probability of high-severity fire. The plan allows for fuel reduction in late-successional reserves; fuel treatments, however, apparently have not happened at a high enough rate or been applied in a landscape-level approach. Landscape-level strategies are needed that prioritize fuel treatments by vegetation zones, develop shaded fuel breaks in strategic positions, and thin and apply prescribed fire to reduce ladder fuels around remaining old trees. Evaluations of the current and alternative strategies are needed to determine whether the current reserve-matrix approach is the best strategy to meet plan goals in these dynamic landscapes.
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CitationSpies, Thomas A.; Hemstrom, Miles A.; Youngblood, Andrew; Hummel, Susan. 2006. Conserving old-growth forest diversity in disturbance-prone landscapes. Conservation Biology. 20(2): 351-362
Keywordsecosystem management, fire, forest dynamics, Northwest Forest Plan
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