Prescribed fire is widely used to manage fuels in high-frequency, low-severity fire regimes including pine flatwoods of the southeastern USA where prescribed burning during the growing season (the frost-free period during the calendar year) has become more common in recent decades. Growing season prescribed fires address ecological management objectives that focus on increasing herb cover and decreasing shrub cover. The shift from shrub to herb dominance due to burning in the growing season corresponds to a change in surface fuels that could affect fire behavior, yet little has been done to assess the potential effects. We examined the effects of season-of-burn on shrub and herbaceous fuel layers and predicted fire behavior at replicate plots on frequently burned mesic pine flatwoods for two season-of-burn treatments (growing and dormant season prescribed fires) in two geographic regions in northern Florida. The Fuel Characteristic Classification System was used to construct a representative fuelbed for each plot at each sampling time to predict fire behavior. Predicted fire behavior was tested for correlation with measured surface fuel properties to determine if there was an effect from differences in fuels characteristics across treatments. In addition, fire temperature was measured in situ as a proxy for fire intensity and tested for treatment effects on the re-growth of live surface fuels. Compared to single dormant season burns, our single growing season burns caused no changes to live understory fuels and had no detectable effect on fire behavior, although predicted rate of spread and flame length were significantly reduced after all prescribed burns. Shrub cover and predicted fire behavior were, however, significantly different between geographic regions, and shrub height was significantly affected by fire temperature. Predicted fire behavior was strongly correlated with measures of the litter and herb strata. Results from this study suggest that land managers should not initially expect large changes in understory fuel properties or potential fire behavior from a shift to burning during the growing season and show that geographic location and fire intensity had significant effects on live fuels and potential fire behavior.
Cronan, James B.; Wright, Clinton S.; Petrova, Maria. 2015. Effects of dormant and growing season burning on surface fuels and potential fire behavior in northern Florida longleaf pine (Pinus palustris) flatwoods. Forest Ecology and Management. 354: 318-333.