Canadian Forest Service Publications

Young jack pine and high severity fire combine to create potentially expansive areas of understocked forest. 2013. Pinno, B.D.; Errington, R.C.; Thompson, D.K. Forest Ecology and Management 310:517-522.

Year: 2013

Issued by: Northern Forestry Centre

Catalog ID: 35122

Language: English

CFS Availability: Order paper copy (free), PDF (request by e-mail)

Available from the Journal's Web site.
DOI: 10.1016/j.foreco.2013.08.055

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Abstract

Jack pine is a fire adapted species considered to regenerate well after fires of all severities. The Richardson Fire was an extreme megafire event that burned 576,000 ha of jack pine dominated boreal forest in 2011 in northern Alberta, Canada. Initial scouting immediately after the fire identified a great deal of variability in jack pine regeneration seemingly related to fire severity and pre-fire stand composition. We sampled tree regeneration in 56 pure jack pine stands across the range of fire severity and pre-fire stand ages 1 year post-fire. We found that jack pine regeneration density was greater in older stands (>60 years old) compared to younger stands (<30 years old) and in moderate severity burns compared to high severity burns. In young stands with high severity burns, jack pine regeneration averaged only 1164 seedlings per hectare which is well below current stand densities indicating a potentially understocked future forest. At the landscape level, we extrapolated fire severity to the entire fire area using pre and post-fire satellite imagery and found that the area of young jack pine stands which had a high severity burn, and therefore likely low seedling regeneration, was greater than 130,000 ha with most of this area occurring in patches greater than 500 ha in size. Overall, our results suggest that young jack pine may not be as resilient to high severity fires as previously thought and that a large area of burned boreal forest may be at risk of conversion from a closed canopy forest to a more open canopy woodland ecosystem given the predicted changes in fire regime.

Plain Language Summary

In 2011, the Richardson Fire was an extreme fire event that burned 576,000 hectares of jack pine dominated boreal forest in northern Alberta. After the fire, we studied jack pine regeneration in this area and found that tree regeneration was greatest in old stands with moderate severity fires while tree regeneration was low in young stands with high severity fires. At the landscape scale, we identified 130,000 hectares of young stands affected by high severity fires, which could result in a potentially huge area of understocked forest. Overall, young jack pine forests may not be as resilient to high severity fires as previously thought. Fire could significantly alter this type of ecosystem and change it from a closed canopy forest to an open canopy woodland.