Fuel loadings 5 years after a bark beetle outbreak in south-western USA ponderosa pine forests
Landscape-level bark beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) outbreaks occurred in Arizona ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa Dougl. ex Law.) forests from 2001 to 2003 in response to severe drought and suitable forest conditions. We quantified surface fuel loadings and depths, and calculated canopy fuels based on forest structure attributes in 60 plots established 5 years previously on five national forests. Half of the plots we sampled in 2007 had bark beetle-caused pine mortality and half did not have mortality. Adjusting for differences in pre-outbreak stand density, plots with mortality had higher surface fuel and lower canopy fuel loadings 5 years after the outbreak compared with plots without mortality. Total surface fuels averaged 2.5 times higher and calculated canopy fuels 2 times lower in plots with mortality. Nearly half of the trees killed in the bark beetle outbreak had fallen within 5 years, resulting in loadings of 1000-h woody fuels above recommended ranges for dry coniferous forests in 20% of the mortality plots. We expect 1000-h fuel loadings in other mortality plots to exceed recommended ranges as remaining snags fall to the ground. This study adds to previous work that documents the highly variable and complex effects of bark beetle outbreaks on fuel complexes.