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Project ID: 04-2-1-118

Year: 2004

Date Started: 07/23/2004

Date Completed: 02/01/2008

Title: Effects of Fuels Treatments and Wildfire on Understory Species and Fuels in the Ponderosa Pine Zone of the Colorado Front Range

Project Proposal Abstract: In the Colorado Front Range, managers and others are concerned about the effectiveness of fuel reduction treatments and wildfire at changing existing ponderosa pine landscapes from dense, continuous forests to more patchy, open landscapes similar to those that existed before Euro-American settlement. Less obvious, though, are concerns regarding changes to the forest floor -- in terms of both understory species composition and surface fuels that would carry a fire. As wildfires occur, and as fuel reduction treatments and restoration activities expand to much larger land areas in the Front Range, forest managers are clearly expressing the need for data which will help them understand how both restoration actions and wildfire influence the forest understory and fuel loading. The research proposed here directly addresses Task 1 of AFP-2004-2, which states that "proposals are sought to directly address locally important knowledge or data gaps associated with planning and implementation of wildland fire, fuels treatment, or post-fire treatment actions?" We are proposing a holistic ecosystem evaluation of the changes in forest overstory and understory structure and fuel characteristics that result from restoration actions and wildfires. This objective stems directly from the rapid increase in fuel treatments and the need to know that these treatments will succeed and be ecologically and socially acceptable over time. This project has two specific objectives: 1. To assess the effects of restoration (mechanical thinning) and wildfire on understory species composition and surface fuels. This includes (a) analyzing both monitoring data collected before and after mechanical fuels treatments in the Upper South Platte Watershed, and pre- and post-fire plot data in areas that burned at several severities in the Hayman fire, and (b) collecting new data to expand treatment evaluations and to facilitate comparisons with pre-existing data collected throughout the area. 2. To evaluate the effects of restoration versus wildfire on forest overstory and understory structure, fuels, and long-term fire behavior characteristics. Our objective here is to evaluate the relative effectiveness of restoration treatments and wildfire in achieving overall landscape restoration goals. This will yield insight into the potential of these two very different disturbances, one planned and one not, in meeting the short-term (i.e. 1-5 years) goals of land managers, with regard to overstory structure, understory species composition, and surface fuels, as well as long-term goals (25-50 years) for restoring features of sustainable landscapes. We will also use of two models- the Fire and Fuels Extension of the Forest Vegetation Simulator (FFE-FVS), and the Fire Area Simulator (FARSITE)- to help answer questions about the effectiveness of thinning and the current fire regime (i.e. high severity fire) at mimicking the landscape processes that historically shaped the landscape (i.e. mixed-severity fire). Both land managers and the scientific community will benefit from the results of this study. Interactions with the Upper South Platte Restoration Project and the Front Range Fuels Treatment Partnership will extend these results over the entire Colorado Front Range as managers continue in the adaptive management process. In addition, the findings will be published as several peer-reviewed papers in accredited journals.

Principal Investigator: Paula J. Fornwalt

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Merrill R. Kaufmann

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Federal Cooperator

Paula J. Fornwalt

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Southern Rockies


There are no project locations identified for this project.

Project Deliverables

Final Report view or print

("Results presented in JFSP Final Reports may not have been peer-reviewed and should be interpreted as tentative until published in a peer-reviewed source.")

  ID Type Title
view or print   63 Ph.D. Dissertation Disturbance impacts on understory plant communities of the Colorado Front Range
view or print   3488 Journal Article Journal of Vegetation Science
view or print   3489 Journal Article Fire Management Today
view or print   2630 Journal Article Biological Invasions

Supporting Documents

The following supporting documents are available for this project.

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