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Northern Research Station
One Gifford Pinchot Drive
Madison, WI 53726
(608) 231-9318
(608) 231-9544 TTY/TDD

Sustaining Forests

Landscape-level Effects of Thinning and Burning

Research Issue

[image:] Top map shows the Racoon Ecological Management Area (Thin and Burn treatment) in 2000, before thinning and two burns, for 'competitiveness' for oaks and hickories. Bottom map shows the same (plus percent open sky as size of circles) after treatments and sampled in 2006. Blue points show non-competitive oaks, while red points show reasonably competitive oaks are present. Background colors reflect the integrated moisture index. See the featured publication for more details.Oak regeneration continues to be a problem in the Central Hardwoods region of the US. In the absence of regular fire (as was common before European settlement and fire regulatory agencies in the ~1920’s), the canopy closes and oak regeneration is often preempted by more shade-tolerant species like maples. The Fire and Fire Surrogates Study (FFS) is aimed to better understand the influence of multiple fires and thinning on oak regeneration. This research is a component of the FFS work in Ohio.

Our Research

We analyzed tree regeneration over thirteen years (2000-2013) on two sites (REMA and Zaleski), on a 50-m grid (242 plots) for “thin once-burn three times” and control treatments. The plots were assessed for Integrated Moisture Index, canopy openness, and woody vegetation composition and cover. Early in the experiment, we also developed a technique for monitoring relative measures of fire temperature with thermocouples and buried data loggers across the landscape, including the preparation of on-line animated fire sequences.

Research Results

  • After 13 years, the “thin once-burn three times” treatment continued to provide evidence of successful oak regeneration, at least on the dry and intermediate moisture regimes. The numbers of large oak seedlings > 50cm height continued to increase through time indicating increased potential for the oaks to eventually reach the canopy.
  • Three prescribed fires facilitated the increases in oak while they reduced the competition from maples and other competitors.
  • Based on this study, we recommend for topographically appropriate dry and intermediate sites, a partial harvest followed by two or three dormant-season fires (depending on fire intensity) allowing roughly 6–18% light to penetrate the forest floor. This will promote oak-hickory into the advanced oak regeneration status. Then, following a hiatus from burning for some years to further advance oak-hickory growth without topkill, some proportion of oaks and hickories can be expected to advance to the canopy following natural disturbance or harvest of current canopy. On mesic sites, though treatments demonstrated an improvement to oak-hickory regeneration, the relative cost to benefit would be high. (More information)
  • Thermocouples with buried loggers were shown to provide an accurate method to inform fire managers of the relative fire intensities across the landscape. (More information)
  • Animation of prescribed fires on Zaleski and REMA burns

Iverson, Louis R.; Hutchinson, Todd F.; Peters, Matthew P.; Yaussy, Daniel A. 2017. Long-term response of oak-hickory regeneration to partial harvest and repeated fires: influence of light and moisture. Ecosphere. 8(1): e01642. 24 p. http://dx.doi.org/10.1002/ecs2.1642

Iverson, L. R., T. F. Hutchinson, A. M. Prasad, and M. Peters. 2008. Thinning, fire, and oak regeneration across a hetergeneous landscape in the eastern U.S.: 7-year results. Forest Ecology and Management 255:3035-3050.

Iverson, Louis R.; Prasad, Anantha M.; Rebbeck, Joanne. 2004. A Comparison of the Integrated Moisture Index and the Topographic Wetness Index as Related to Two Years Of Soil Moisture Monitoring in Zaleski State Forest, Ohio. In: Yaussy, Daniel A.; Hix, David M.; Long, Robert P.; Goebel, P. Charles, eds. Proceedings, 14th Central Hardwood Forest Conference; 2004 March 16-19; Wooster, OH. Gen. Tech. Rep. NE-316. Newtown Square, PA: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Northeastern Research Station: 515-517

Iverson, Louis R.; Yaussy, Daniel A.; Rebbeck, Joanne; Hutchinson, Todd F.; Long, Robert P.; Prasad, Anantha M. 2004. A comparison of thermocouples and temperature paints to monitor spatial and temporal characteristics of landscape-scale prescribed fires. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 13: 311-322.

Iverson, LR, AM Prasad, TF Hutchinson, J. Rebbeck, and DA Yaussy. 2004. Fire and thinning in an Ohio oak forest: grid-point analysis of fire behavior, environmental conditions, and tree regeneration across a topographic moisture gradient. Pages 190-197  in M. Spetich, ed. Upland Oak Ecology Symposium: History, Current Conditions, and Sustainability. Southern Research Station, USDA Forest Service, Asheville, NC. 

Iverson, Louis R.; Hutchinson, Todd F. 2002. Soil temperature and moisture fluctuations during and after prescribed fire in mixed-oak forests, USA. Natural Areas Journal. 22(4): 296-304.

Iverson, Louis R.; Dale, Martin E.; Scott, Charles T.; Prasad, Anantha. 1997. A GIS-derived integrated moisture index to predict forest composition and productivity of Ohio forests (U.S.A.)

Research Participants

Principal Investigators

  • Louis Iverson, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Research Landscape Ecologist
  • Anantha Prasad, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Ecologist
  • Matthew Peters, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station GIS Analyst
  • Stephen Matthews, Ohio State University Wildlife Landscape Ecologist 

Research Partners

  • Todd Hutchinson, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Research Ecologist
  • Joanne Rebbeck, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Plant Physiologist
  • Daniel Yaussy, USDA Forest Service- Northern Research Station Supervisory Research Forester (retired)

Last Modified: 05/04/2017