Graduate Thesis Or Dissertation


The Past, Present, and Future of Fire and Ponderosa Pine Stand Dynamics in the Metolius Research Natural Area, Central Oregon Public Deposited

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  • The Metolius Research Natural Area (RNA), located 29 km northwest of Sisters, Oregon, was originally established in 1931 to maintain a ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. Ex Laws) and dry, mixed-conifer forest with the aim to meet objectives of preserving natural conditions, providing for research opportunities, and preserving gene pools of certain plants and animals via intact natural disturbance processes. Historically, frequent fire was a keystone natural disturbance in central Oregon and the Metolius RNA. However, with European settlement in the late 1800s and the creation of the US Forest Service in the early 1900s came organized wildland fire suppression efforts. These efforts have been highly effective at excluding fire from the landscape for over a century. Fire-deficit has been shown to cause a variety of stand alterations for actively managed forests including shifts in density, structure, composition, and fuel loading that can be detrimental to the resistance, resilience, and overall function of the stand. Since the Metolius RNA is part of a landscape where fires historically were expansive and returned frequently we assumed that the Metolius RNA also burned frequently and that fire was a keystone disturbance process here prior to European settlement. Further, we questioned if stand conditions were truly natural despite a fire deficit of more than a century. We sought to validate our assumption and quantify current versus historical stand conditions via reconstructing historical fire frequency and historical stand conditions using dendrochronology methods for a 4.5ha permanent research plot. We also discuss the future of the Metolius RNA with population growth rates from 1981-2016 and modeled fire behavior and tree mortality and compare the fuel loading and modeled fire behavior and mortality to a representative, established fuel model, Scott & Burgan TL8 (2005). We found that fire returned to the plot on average every 9.5 years from 1613-1898, and that stand characteristics have greatly deviated from estimated 1898 conditions. Further, with the population growth rates from 1981-2016 and the model fire behavior and mortality, we suggest that the stand is in decline and at risk of high-severity disturbance. If meeting the objectives of the Metolius RNA and minimizing risk to high-severity disturbances is desired, we suggest one-time mechanical treatment followed by repeated prescribed fire to restore natural conditions and intact natural disturbance processes.
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  • Johnston, K.M. 2018. The Past, Present, and Future of Fire and Ponderosa Pine Stand Dynamics in the Metolius Research Natural Area, Central Oregon
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