Landscape Ecology

, Volume 28, Issue 9, pp 1801–1813 | Cite as

Early forest dynamics in stand-replacing fire patches in the northern Sierra Nevada, California, USA

  • Brandon M. Collins
  • Gary B. Roller
Research article


There is considerable concern over the occurrence of stand-replacing fire in forest types historically associated with low- to moderate-severity fire. The concern is largely over whether contemporary levels of stand-replacing fire are outside the historical range of variability, and what natural forest recovery is in these forest types following stand-replacing fire. In this study we quantified shrub characteristics and tree regeneration patterns in stand-replacing patches for five fires in the northern Sierra Nevada. These fires occurred between 1999 and 2008, and our field measurements were conducted in 2010. We analyzed tree regeneration patterns at two scales: patch level, in which field observations and spatial data were aggregated for a given stand-replacing patch, and plot level. Although tree regeneration densities varied considerably across sampled fires, over 50 % of the patches and approximately 80 % all plots had no tree regeneration. The percentage of patches, and to a greater extent plots, without pine regeneration was even higher, 72 and 87 %, respectively. Hardwood regeneration was present on a higher proportion of plots than either the pine or non-pine conifer groups. Shrub cover was generally high, with approximately 60 % of both patches and individual plots exceeding 60 % cover. Patch characteristics (size, perimeter-to-area ratio, distance-to-edge) appeared to have little effect on observed tree regeneration patterns. Conifer regeneration was higher in areas with post-fire management activities (salvage harvesting, planting). Our results indicate that the natural return of pine/mixed-conifer forests is uncertain in many areas affected by stand-replacing fire.


Fire ecology High severity Tree regeneration Mixed-conifer 



We would like to thank Christopher Dow and Anu Kramer for their assistance in the field under some of the toughest field sampling conditions we have been involved in. Anu Kramer also helped with GIS support. Jay Miller kindly provided the pre-fire vegetation maps. We thank the Plumas National Forest staff, in particular Ryan Tompkins, for providing information and input on this work. This work was funded by the Storrie Fire Restoration Project and the Plumas-Lassen Administration Study.


  1. Barbour MG, Major J (eds) (1995) Terrestrial vegetation of California: new expanded. California Native Plant Society, DavisGoogle Scholar
  2. Barton AM (2002) Intense wildfire in southeastern Arizona: transformation of a Madrean oak-pine forest to oak woodland. For Ecol Manage 165:205–212CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Beaty RM, Taylor AH (2008) Fire history and the structure and dynamics of a mixed conifer forest landscape in the northern Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe Basin, California, USA. Forest Ecol Manage 255:707–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bekker MF, Taylor AH (2001) Gradient analysis of fire regimes in montane forests of the southern Cascade range, Thousand Lakes Wilderness, California, USA. Plant Ecol 155:15–28CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Biswell HH (1974) Effects of fire on chaparral. In: Kozlowski TT, Ahlgren CE (eds) Fire and ecosystems. Academic Press, New York, pp 321–364Google Scholar
  6. Bonnet VH, Schoettle AW, Shepperd WD (2005) Postfire environmental conditions influence the spatial pattern of regeneration for Pinus ponderosa. Can J For Res 35:37–47CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bowyer RT and Bleich VC 1980. Ecological relationships between southern mule deer and California black oak. In Plumb TR (ed) Proceedings of the Symposium on Ecology, Management, and Utilization of California Oaks, pp. 292–296. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  8. Breiman L, Friedman JH, Olshen RA, Stone CG (1984) Classification and regression trees. Wadsworth, BelmontGoogle Scholar
  9. Brown PM, Kaufmann MR, Shepperd WD (1999) Long-term, landscape patterns of past fire events in a montane ponderosa pine forest of central Colorado. Landscape Ecol 14:513–532CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Brown PM, Wienk CL, Symstad AJ (2008) Fire and forest history at Mount Rushmore. Ecol Appl 18:1984–1999PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Cattelino PJ, Noble IR, Slatyer RO, Kessell SR (1979) Predicting the multiple pathways of plant succession. Environ Manage 3:41–50CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Collins BM, Stephens SL (2010) Stand-replacing patches within a ‘mixed severity’ fire regime: quantitative characterization using recent fires in a long-established natural fire area. Landscape Ecol 25:927–939CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Collins BM, Kelly M, van Wagtendonk JW, Stephens SL (2007) Spatial patterns of large natural fires in Sierra Nevada wilderness area. Landscape Ecol 22:545–557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Collins BM, Miller JD, Thode AE, Kelly M, van Wagtendonk JW, Stephens SL (2009) Interactions among wildland fires in a long-established Sierra Nevada natural fire area. Ecosystems 12:114–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Collins BM, Everett RG, Stephens SL (2011) Impacts of fire exclusion and managed fire on forest structure in an old growth Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest. Ecosphere 2:51CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Conard SG, Radosevich SR (1982) Post-fire succession in white fir (Abies concolor) vegetation of the northern Sierra Nevada. Madrono 29:42–56Google Scholar
  17. Connell JH, Slatyer RO (1977) Mechanisms of succession in natural communities and their role in community stability and organization. Am Nat 111:1119–1144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Crotteau JS, Varner JM, Ritchie MW (2013) Post-fire regeneration across a fire severity gradient in the southern Cascades. For Ecol Manage 287:103–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De’ath G, Fabricius KE (2000) Classification and regression trees: a powerful yet simple technique for ecological data analysis. Ecology 81:3178–3192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Donato DC, Fontaine JB, Campbell JL, Robinson WD, Kauffman JB, Law BE (2009) Conifer regeneration in stand-replacement portions of a large mixed-severity wildfire in the Klamath-Siskiyou Mountains. Can J For Res 39:823–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Finney MA, McHugh CW, Grenfell IC, Riley KL, Short KC (2011) A simulation of probabilistic wildfire risk components for the continental United States. Stoch Environ Res Risk Assess 25:973–1000CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Fowells HA and Stark NB (1965). Natural regeneration in relation to environment in the mixed conifer forest type of California. General Technical Report PSW-24. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, p 14Google Scholar
  23. Girvetz EH, Greco SE (2007) How to define a patch: a spatial model for hierarchically delineating organism-specific habitat patches. Landscape Ecol 22:1131–1142CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Goforth BR, Minnich RA (2008) Densification, stand-replacement wildfire, and extirpation of mixed conifer forest in Cuyamaca Rancho State Park, southern California. For Ecol Manage 256:36–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gordon DT (1979) Successful natural regeneration cuttings in California true firs. General Technical Report PSW-140. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, p 14Google Scholar
  26. Graham RT, Technical Editor (2003). Hayman fire case study. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-114. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ogden, p 396Google Scholar
  27. Gray AN, Zald HSJ, Kern RA, North M (2005) Stand conditions associated with tree regeneration in Sierran mixed-conifer forests. For Sci 51:198–210Google Scholar
  28. Greene DF, Johnson EA (2000) Tree recruitment from burn edges. Can J For Res 30:1264–1274CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Haire SL, McGarigal K (2010) Effects of landscape patterns of fire severity on regenerating ponderosa pine forests (Pinus ponderosa) in New Mexico and Arizona, USA. Landscape Ecol 25:1055–1069CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Halofsky JE, Donato DC, Hibbs DE, Campbell JL, Cannon MD, Fontaine JB, Thompson JR, Anthony RG, Bormann BT, Kayes LJ, Law BE, Peterson DL and Spies TA (2011) Mixed-severity fire regimes: lessons and hypotheses from the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion 2: art40Google Scholar
  31. Hessburg PF, Agee JK, Franklin JF (2005) Dry forests and wildland fires of the inland Northwest USA: contrasting the landscape ecology of the pre-settlement and modern eras. For Ecol Manage 211:117–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Hessburg PF, Salter RB, James KM (2007) Re-examining fire severity relations in pre-management era mixed conifer forests: inferences from landscape patterns of forest structure. Landscape Ecol 22:5–24CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Holden ZA, Morgan P, Crimmins MA, Steinhorst RK, Smith AM (2007) Fire season precipitation variability influences fire extent and severity in a large southwestern wilderness area United States. Geophys Res Let 34:L16708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Holden ZA, Morgan P, Evans JS (2009) A predictive model of burn severity based on 20-year satellite-inferred burn severity data in a large southwestern US wilderness area. For Ecol Manage 258:2399–2406CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Hothorn T, Hornik K, Zeileis A (2006) Unbiased recursive partitioning: a conditional inference framework. J Comput Graph Stat 15:651–674CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hothorn T, Hornik K, Strobl C and Zeileis A (2009) PARTY: a laboratory for recursive partitioning. (
  37. Hurlbert SH (1984) Psuedoreplication and the design of ecological field experiments. Ecol Monogr 54:187–211CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Kauffman JB, Martin RE (1991) Factors influencing the scarification and germination of three montane Sierra Nevada shrubs. Northwest Sci 65:180–187Google Scholar
  39. Keane RE, Agee JK, Fulé PZ, Keeley JE, Key CH, Kitchen SG, Miller R, Schulte LA (2008) Ecological effects of large fires on US landscapes: benefit or catastrophe. Int J Wildland Fire 17:696–712CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Keeley JE (2012) Ecology and evolution of pine life histories. Ann For Sci 69:445–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Knapp EE, Keeley JE (2006) Heterogeneity in fire severity within early season and late season prescribed burns in a mixed-conifer forest. Int J Wildland Fire 15:37–45CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Knapp EE, Weatherspoon CP, Skinner CN (2012) Shrub seed banks in mixed conifer forests of northern California and the role of fire in regulating abundance. Fire Ecol 8:32–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. McCook LJ (1994) Understanding ecological community succession. causal models and theories, a review. Vegetatio 110:115–147CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. McDonald PM (1980) Seed dissemination in small clearcuttings in north-central California. General Technical Report PSW-150. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, p 5Google Scholar
  45. McDonald PM and Fiddler GO (1989) Competing vegetation in ponderosa pine plantations: ecology and control. General Technical Report PSW-113. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Forest and Range Experiment Station, Berkeley, p 26Google Scholar
  46. McDonald PM (1992) Estimating seed crops of conifer and hardwood species. Can J For Res 22:832–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McKenzie D, Gedalof Z, Peterson DL, Mote P (2004) Climate change, wildfire, and conservation. Conserv Biol 18:890–902CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Miller JD, Thode AE (2007) Quantifying burn severity in a heterogeneous landscape with a relative version of the delta normalized burn ratio (dNBR). Remote Sens Environ 109:66–80CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Miller JD, Safford HD, Crimmins M, Thode AE (2009a) Quantitative evidence for increasing forest fire severity in the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascade Mountains, California and Nevada, USA. Ecosystems 12:16–32CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Miller JD, Knapp EE, Key CH, Skinner CN, Isbell CJ, Creasy RM, Sherlock JW (2009b) Calibration and validation of the relative differenced Normalized Burn Ratio (RdNBR) to three measures of fire severity in the Sierra Nevada and Klamath Mountains, California, USA. Remote Sens Environ 113:645–646CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Miller JD, Safford HD (2012) Trends in wildfire severity 1984–2010 in the Sierra Nevada, Modoc Plateau and southern Cascades, California, USA. Fire Ecol 8:41–57CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Miller JD, Skinner CN, Safford HD, Knapp EE, Ramirez CM (2012) Trends and causes of severity, size, and number of fires in northwestern California, USA. Ecol Appl 22:184–203PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Moghaddas JJ, York RA, Stephens SL (2008) Initial response of conifer and California black oak seedlings following fuel reduction activities in a Sierra Nevada mixed conifer forest. For Ecol Manage 255:3141–3150CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Moody TJ, Fites-Kaufman J, Stephens SL (2006) Fire history and climate influences from forests in the northern Sierra Nevada, USA. Fire Ecol 2:115–141CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Naficy C, Sala A, Keeling EG, Graham J, DeLuca TH (2010) Interactive effects of historical logging and fire exclusion on ponderosa pine forest structure in the northern Rockies. Ecol Appl 20:1851–1864PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Nagel TA, Taylor AH (2005) Fire and persistence of montane chaparral in mixed conifer forest landscapes in the northern Sierra Nevada, Lake Tahoe Basin, California, USA. J Torrey Bot Soc 132:442–457CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Odion DC, Moritz MA, DellaSala DA (2009) Alternative community states maintained by fire in the Klamath Mountains USA. J Ecol. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2745.2009.01597.x Google Scholar
  58. Parsons DJ, Debenedetti SH (1979) Impact of fire suppression on a mixed-conifer forest. For Ecol Manage 2:21–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Perry DA, Hessburg PF, Skinner CN, Spies TA, Stephens SL, Taylor AH, Franklin JF, McComb B, Riegel G (2011) The ecology of mixed severity fire regimes in Washington, Oregon, and Northern California. Forest Ecol Manage 262:703–717CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Pickett STA, Collins SL, Armesto JJ (1987) Models, mechanisms and pathways of succession. Bot Rev 53:335–371CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Roccaforte JP, Fule PZ, Chancellor WW, Laughlin DC (2012) Woody debris and tree regeneration dynamics following severe wildfires in Arizona ponderosa pine forests. Can J For Res 42:593–604CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Russell WH, McBride JR, Rowntree R (1998) Revegetation after four stand-replacing fires in the Lake Tahoe Basin. Madrono 45:40–46Google Scholar
  63. Safford HD, Miller JD, Schmidt D, Roath B, Parsons A (2008) BAER soil burn severity maps do not measure fire effects to vegetation: a comment on Odion and Hanson (2006). Ecosystems 11:1–11CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Safford HD, North M, Meyer MD (2012) Chapter 3: climate change and the relevance of historical forest conditions. In: North M (ed) Managing Sierra Nevada forests. U. S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Research Station, Albany, pp 23–46Google Scholar
  65. Savage M, Mast JN (2005) How resilient are southwestern ponderosa pine forests after crown fires? Can J For Res 35:967–977CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Schoenherr AA (1992) A natural history of California. University of California Press, BerkeleyGoogle Scholar
  67. Schoennagel T, Veblen TT, Romme WH (2004) The interaction of fire, fuels, and climate across Rocky Mountain forests. Bioscience 54:661–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Scholl AE, Taylor AH (2010) Fire regimes, forest change, and self-organization in an old-growth mixed-conifer forest, Yosemite National Park, USA. Ecol Appl 20:362–380PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  69. Shatford JPA, Hibbs DE, Puettmann KJ (2007) Conifer regeneration after forest fire in the Klamath-Siskiyous: How much, how soon? J Forest 105:139–146Google Scholar
  70. Skinner CN, Taylor AH, Agee JK (2006) Klamath Mountains bioregion. In: Sugihara NG, van Wagtendonk JW, Fites-Kaufman J, Shaffer KE, Thode AE (eds) Fire in California’s ecosystems. University of California Press, Berkeley, pp 170–194CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Sleeter BM, Wilson TS, Soulard CE, Liu J (2011) Estimation of late twentieth century land-cover change in California. Environ Monit Assess 173:251–266PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Stephens SL, Collins BM (2004) Fire regimes of mixed conifer forests in the north-central Sierra Nevada at multiple spatial scales. Northwest Sci 78:12–23Google Scholar
  73. Strom BA, Fulé PZ (2007) Pre-wildfire fuel treatments affect long-term ponderosa pine forest dynamics. Int J Wildland Fire 16:128–138CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Sugihara NG, van Wagtendonk JW, Shaffer KE, Fites-Kaufman J, Thode AE (2006) Fire in California’s ecosystems. University of California Press, BerkeleyCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Swanson ME, Franklin JF, Beschta RL, Crisafulli CM, Dellasala DA, Hutto RL, Lindenmayer DB, Swanson FJ (2011) The forgotten stage of forest succession: early-successional ecosystems on forest sites. Front Ecol Environ 9:117–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Swetnam TW, Baisan CH (2003) Tree-ring reconstructions of fire and climate history in the Sierra Nevada and southwestern United States. In: Veblen TT, Baker WL, Montenegro G, Swetnam TW (eds) Fire and climatic change in temperate ecosystems of the western Americas Ecological Studies, vol 160. Springer, New York, pp 158–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Thompson JR, Foster DR, Scheller R, Kittredge D (2011) The influence of land use and climate change on forest biomass and composition in Massachusetts, USA. Ecol Appl 21:2425–2444PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. USFS (2011) Region five ecological restoration: leadership intent. March 2011. U.S. Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region, p 4Google Scholar
  79. van Mantgem PJ, Schwartz M, Keifer M (2001) Monitoring fire effects for managed burns and wildfires: coming to terms with pseudoreplication. Nat Areas J 21:266–273Google Scholar
  80. van Mantgem PJ, Schwilk DW (2009) Negligible influence of spatial autocorrelation in the assessment of fire effects in a mixed conifer forest. Fire Ecol 5:116–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. van Wagtendonk JW, Lutz JA (2007) Fire regime attributes of wildland fires in Yosemite National Park, USA. Fire Ecol 3:34–52CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Westerling A, Bryant B, Preisler H, Holmes T, Hidalgo H, Das T, Shrestha S (2011) Climate change and growth scenarios for California wildfire. Climatic Change 109:445–463CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Westerling AL, Hidalgo HG, Cayan DR, Swetnam TW (2006) Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity. Science 313:940–943PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Williams MA, Baker WL (2012) Spatially extensive reconstructions show variable-severity fire and heterogeneous structure in historical western United States dry forests. Glob Ecol Biogeogr. doi: 10.1111/j.1466-8238.2011.00737.x Google Scholar
  85. Zald HSJ, Gray AN, North M, Kern RA (2008) Initial tree regeneration responses to fire and thinning treatments in a Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forest, USA. For Ecol Manage 256:168–179CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  86. Zwolak R, Pearson DE, Ortega YK, Crone EE (2010) Fire and mice: seed predation moderates fire’s influence on conifer recruitment. Ecology 91:1124–1131PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht (outside the USA) 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.USDA Forest ServicePacific Southwest Research StationDavisUSA

Personalised recommendations