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Quaking aspen is found in western forests of the United States and is currently at risk of loss due to conifer competition at within-stand scales. Wildfires in these forests are impactful owing to conifer infilling during prolonged fire suppression post-Euro-American settlement. Here, restoration cuttings seek to impact wildfire behavior and aspen growing conditions. In this study, we explored how actual and hypothetical cuttings with a range of conifer removal intensity altered surface fuel and overstory structure at stand and fine scales. We then simulated wildfires, examining fire behavior and effects on post-fire forest structures around aspen trees. We found that conifer removal constrained by lower upper diameter limits (<56 cm) had marginal effects on surface fuel and overstory structure, likely failing to enhance resource conditions sufficiently to sustain aspen. Increasing the diameter limit also led to a higher likelihood of fire spread and a higher rate of spread, owing to greater within-canopy wind speed, though crown fire activity decreased. Our simulations suggest heavier treatments could facilitate reintroduction of fire while also dampening the effects of wildfires on forest structure. Cutting specifications that relax diameter limits and remove a substantial portion of conifer overstory could better promote aspen restoration and mitigate fire hazard.
Ziegler, J.P.; Hoffman, C.M.; Collins, B.M.; Long, J.W.; Dagley, C.M.; Mell, W. Simulated Fire Behavior and Fine-Scale Forest Structure Following Conifer Removal in Aspen-Conifer Forests in the Lake Tahoe Basin, USA. Fire 2020, 3, 51.