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Historical fire in the Appalachian Plateau of Ohio and Kentucky, USA, from remnant yellow pines

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Hutchinson, Todd F.; Stambaugh, Michael C.; Marschall, Joseph M.; Guyette, Richard P.

Year Published

2019

Publication

Fire Ecology

Abstract

Background: Knowledge of historical fire regimes informs the restoration of woodland communities. In the Appalachian Plateau of Ohio and Kentucky, USA, little is known about the long-term history of fire in oak–pine communities, which are declining in the region. To address this knowledge gap, two sites with remnant fire-scarred yellow pines, Hatton Ridge in Kentucky and McAtee Run in Ohio, were studied to document aspects of the historical fire regime. Cross-sections from fire-scarred yellow pines were collected. Fire chronologies were constructed and fire intervals were calculated using standard dendrochronological methods. Results: Fires, the great majority of which occurred in the dormant season, were frequent at both sites from circa 1750 at Hatton and 1800 at McAtee, until the suppression period (1930 to present); only one fire was recorded after 1930. Mean fire intervals (MFI) for the entire period were nearly identical, 4.7 and 4.4 years at Hatton and McAtee, respectively. At both sites, MFIs were lowest in the industrial period (1850 to 1930). At Hatton, the MFI was 6.6 years before 1850 and 3.5 years from 1850 to 1930, while at McAtee, the MFI was 8.4 years before 1850 and 2.7 years from 1850 to 1930. At both sites, the occurrence of fire was not more frequent than expected in years associated with a drought. At McAtee, the majority of pine establishment occurred in pulses during two periods, 1770 to 1781 and 1853 to 1867, suggesting stand-scale canopy disturbances; the second pulse was associated with frequent burning. In contrast, large pulses of pine establishment were not found at Hatton. Conclusions: Yellow pines were a component of these communities, which experienced frequent fire for at least 130 to 160 years. After more than 70 years with little or no fire, yellow pines are now a minor component of the overstory and pine regeneration is essentially absent. Although intensive management with partial harvesting and frequent fire would be required to restore oak–pine woodlands on appropriate sites, it would serve to sustain these increasingly uncommon communities.

Citation

Hutchinson, Todd F.; Stambaugh, Michael C.; Marschall, Joseph M.; Guyette, Richard P. 2019. Historical fire in the Appalachian Plateau of Ohio and Kentucky, USA, from remnant yellow pines. Fire Ecology. 15(1): 346-. 12 p. https://doi.org/10.1186/s42408-019-0052-x.

Last updated on: October 9, 2019