The Effects of Bark Beetle Outbreaks on Forest Development, Fuel Loads and Potential Fire Behavior in Salvage Logged and Untreated Lodgepole Pine Forests

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Forest Ecology and Management

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Recent mountain pine beetle infestations have resulted in widespread tree mortality and the accumula- tion of dead woody fuels across the Rocky Mountain region, creating concerns over future forest stand conditions and fire behavior. We quantified how salvage logging influenced tree regeneration and fuel loads relative to nearby, uncut stands for 24 lodgepole pine forests in north-central Colorado that had experienced >70% overstory mortality from mountain pine beetles. We used our field measurements to predict changes in fuel loads and potential fire behavior in the forests that develop over the century fol- lowing the outbreak and associated harvesting. Our field measurements and stand development projec- tions suggest that salvage logging will alter the potential for canopy fire behavior in future stands by creating conditions that promote regeneration of lodgepole pine and quaking aspen as opposed to sub- alpine fir. The abundant subalpine fir that has regenerated in untreated, beetle-killed stands is predicted to form a stratum of ladder fuels more likely to allow fires burning on the surface to spread into the forest canopy. Harvesting increased woody surface fuels more than 3-fold compared to untreated stands imme- diately after treatments; however, coarse fuels will increase substantially (by �55 Mg ha�1) in untreated stands within three decades of the beetle infestation as dead trees topple, and the elevated fuel loads will persist for more than a century. Though salvage logging will treat a small fraction of beetle-infested Col- orado forests, in those areas treatment will affect stand development and fuel loads and will alter poten- tial fire behavior for more than a century.