Increased forest density resulting from decades of fire exclusion is often perceived as the leading cause of historically aberrant, severe, contemporary wildfires and insect outbreaks documented in some fire-prone forests of the western United States. Based on this notion, current U. S. forest policy directs managers to reduce stand density and restore historical conditions in fire-excluded forests to help minimize high-severity disturbances. Historical logging, however, has also caused widespread change in forest vegetation conditions, but its long-term effects on vegetation structure and composition have never been adequately quantified. We document that fire-excluded ponderosa pine forests of the northern Rocky Mountains logged prior to 1960 have much higher average stand density, greater homogeneity of stand structure, more standing dead trees and increased abundance of fire-intolerant trees than paired fire-excluded, unlogged counterparts. Notably, the magnitude of the interactive effect of fire exclusion and historical logging substantially exceeds the effects of fire exclusion alone. These differences suggest that historically logged sites are more prone to severe wildfires and insect outbreaks than unlogged, fire-excluded forests and should be considered a high priority for fuels reduction treatments. Furthermore, we propose that ponderosa pine forests with these distinct management histories likely require distinct restoration approaches. We also highlight potential long-term risks of mechanical stand manipulation in unlogged forests and emphasize the need for a long-term view of fuels management.
Copyright 2010 by the Ecological Society of America. Cameron Naficy, Anna Sala, Eric G. Keeling, Jon Graham, and Thomas H. DeLuca 2010. Interactive effects of historical logging and fire exclusion on ponderosa pine forest structure in the northern Rockies. Ecological Applications 20:1851–1864. http://dx.doi.org/10.1890/09-0217.1.