Effects of Prescribed Fire on Timber Quality and Tree Value in the Central Hardwood Region

2019-10-17T18:27:55Z (GMT) by David Paul Mann
Prescribed fire is one of the most useful tools available to forest managers attempting to maintain oak-hickory forests in the Central Hardwood Region. Prescribed fire can be useful in promoting regeneration of desirable species groups like oak (Quercus spp.) and hickory (Carya spp.) by preparing the seedbed, managing competition, and creating canopy gaps. The use of prescribed fire has been limited by concerns regarding the effect of the practice on standing timber. A perception of strong negative effects to tree-quality and tree-value from fire originated largely from sometimes deleterious effects of wildfire on timber. Less research exists demonstrating the potential effects of controlled, prescribed burning on timber quality and value. Furthermore, most research that exists focuses on individual tree characteristics, and is often focused on a relatively small geographic areas.

I conducted a regional study on the effects of prescribed fire on timber quality across a gradient of the Central Hardwood Region, ranging from the Missouri Ozarks to the Appalachian foothills. I studied 139 stands in selected prescribed fire units and control sites in Mark Twain National Forest (MO), Hoosier National Forest (IN), Wayne National Forest (OH) and Daniel Boone National Forest (KY). Selected stands were dominated by hardwoods species and had variable prescribed fire histories, ranging from 0 to 6 prescribed fires.

Measurements were taken concurrently across this plot network for two studies. First, we assessed the estimated effect of prescribed fire on stumpage value, and secondly, we assessed wounding patterns and effects of prescribed fire on tree-quality. Loss in estimated stumpage value from prescribed fire averaged approximately 4.2% across all measured stands. Estimated loss in stumpage value varied significantly by the number of prescribed fires in the last 30 years, with increasing numbers of prescribed fires leading to higher estimated losses in stumpage value. Further, stands in Mark Twain National Forest exhibited higher estimated loss in stumpage value, exceeding 10% on average. Stands in Hoosier, Wayne, and Daniel Boone National Forest only rarely exceed 5% losses in estimated stumpage value, and averaged less than 3%.

Approximately 25% of trees had at least one wound associated with prescribed fire across all study sites, while approximately 5% of trees experienced a reduction in tree quality (as measured by United States Forest Service tree grade) from prescribed fire. Both the rate of wounding and rate of tree grade reduction increased with increasing numbers of prescribed fires. Stands in the western portion of the Central Hardwood Region (Hoosier and Mark Twain National Forest) exhibiting higher rates of wounding from fire compared to eastern sites (Wayne and Daniel Boone National Forest.)

Effects of wounding varied significantly by type of wound. Catfaces accounted for far more volume loss and reduction in tree grade than any other wound type. Alternatively, some wound types, like seams and bark slough, caused minimal tree-quality and tree-volume effects. Effects also varied by species, with higher wounding effects on sugar maple and red oak, and relatively low effects on white oak and yellow-poplar.