, Volume 11, Issue 7, pp 1106-1119
Date: 07 Sep 2008

The Relative Impact of Harvest and Fire upon Landscape-Level Dynamics of Older Forests: Lessons from the Northwest Forest Plan

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Interest in preserving older forests at the landscape level has increased in many regions, including the Pacific Northwest of the United States. The Northwest Forest Plan (NWFP) of 1994 initiated a significant reduction in the harvesting of older forests on federal land. We used historical satellite imagery to assess the effect of this reduction in relation to: past harvest rates, management of non-federal forests, and the growing role of fire. Harvest rates in non-federal large-diameter forests (LDF) either decreased or remained stable at relatively high rates following the NWFP, meaning that harvest reductions on federal forests, which cover half of the region, resulted in a significant regional drop in the loss of LDF to harvest. However, increased losses of LDF to fire outweighed reductions in LDF harvest across large areas of the region. Elevated fire levels in the western United States have been correlated to changing climatic conditions, and if recent fire patterns persist, preservation of older forests in dry ecosystems will depend upon practical and coordinated fire management across the landscape.

Author Contributions: The study was conceived and designed by S.P.H., W.B.C., T.A.S, and M. M. The paper was written primarily by S.P.H, with editorial help by T.A.S. and W.B.C. The research itself, including mapping and analysis, was performed by S.P.H., D.P., M.G.W., and M.L. M.M. contributed additional methodologies related to the creation and validations of maps of historical older forests.