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Fire Ecology

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Biology | Life Sciences


Existing fire policy encourages the maintenance of ecosystem integrity in fire management, yet this is difficult to implement on lands managed for competing economic, human safety, and air quality concerns. We discuss a fire management approach in the mid-elevations of the Sierra Nevada, California, USA, that may exemplify similar challenges in other fire-adapted regions of the western USA. We also discuss how managing for pyrodiversity through mixed-severity fires can promote ecosystem integrity in Sierran mixed conifer and ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Laws) forests. To illustrate, we show how coarse-filter (landscape-level) and complementary fine-filter (species-level) approaches can enhance forest management and conservation biology objectives as related to wildfire management. At the coarse-filter level, pyrodiverse mixed-severity fires provide landscape heterogeneity. Species and ecosystem characteristics associated with pyrodiversity can be maintained or enhanced by accommodating moderately severe fires, which hasten restoration by recreating a complex vegetation mosaic otherwise at risk from suppression. At the fine-filter level, managers can select focal species and species of conservation concern based on the degree to which those species depend on fire and accommodate their specific conservation needs. The black-backed woodpecker (Picoides arcticus [Swainson, 1832]) is an ideal focal species for monitoring the ecological integrity of forests restored through mixed-severity fire, and the California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis [Xantus de Vesey, 1860]) is a species of conservation concern that uses post-fire habitat mosaics and is particularly vulnerable to logging. We suggest a comprehensive approach that integrates wildland fire for ecosystem integrity and species viability with strategic deployment of fire suppression and ecologically based restoration of pyrodiverse landscapes. Our approach would accomplish fire management goals while simultaneously maintaining biodiversity.




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