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Project ID: 06-3-2-26

Year: 2006

Date Started: 01/01/2007

Date Completed: 12/30/2009

Title: A Regional Assessment of the Ecological Effects of Chipping and Mastication Fuels Reduction and Forest Restoration Treatments

Project Proposal Abstract: Many areas in the Rocky Mountain west are being thinned to reduce fire hazard and spread and to restore forest structure to pre-settlement conditions. Often the most economical solution for the disposal of the thinned trees is to chip or masticate them and leave the material on site. These treatments are assumed to reduce the ability of the forest to carry a crown fire, but the effects of the added material on forest ecosystems are poorly known. Such treatments do not have natural analogues, because natural disturbances, such as fire, insect outbreaks, and blowdowns, leave woody material intact to decompose. Managers and the public are interested in understanding the impacts of the addition of this woody material on forest ecosystems so that they can evaluate the potential benefits and costs of these treatments. We propose a regional study (~60 sites across 4 forest types) of the ecological effects of chipping and mastication treatments that will use a common design to answer the questions raised by forest managers currently applying these treatments. Our study will determine how chipping and mastication treatments alter the distribution of woody biomass, how these changes affect community composition (understory species diversity, invasive species abundance, forest regeneration) and ecosystem function (nutrient, carbon and water cycling), and how treatment effects differ in relation to forest type, climate, and wood size, distribution and amount. Our study will also provide information needed to develop `Best Management Practices' for these treatments for southern Rocky Mountains and the Colorado plateau. Because this study will assess tree recruitment and wood decomposition and establish permanent plots, it will also provide information helpful for predicting treatment longevity (JFSP AFP 2006-3, Task 3). We will assess the effects of chipping and mastication using three complementary approaches. Our primary approach is to compare measures of community composition and ecosystem function between mechanically treated sites and paired untreated controls. We will contrast understory composition and tree regeneration, chip decomposition, soil nutrient, moisture and temperature in chipped or masticated sites with adjacent, untreated stands. This evaluation will also assess if landscape variability in the distribution of added material has an important influence on vegetation or soil processes. The second approach is to use small-scale manipulations of chip depth to untangle the effects of chip additions from those of thinning, and to better control for site heterogeneity by locating treatment plots adjacent to one another. Our third approach is to integrate measurements made at the study sites into a process-level ecosystem model to assess how chipping and mastication treatments and the associated thinning and changes in forest structure alter site water and carbon balance. Active involvement of resource managers with research design, site selection and study implementation will generate a user-participatory framework to insure that the scientific outcome of this study responds directly and effectively to their information needs. We will deliver findings through a variety of methods including an interactive management workshop, regional field trips, Best Management Practice recommendations and peer-reviewed scientific publications. In conjunction with the Colorado Forest Restoration Institute, we will develop standardized sampling protocols to assist resource specialists and community groups in making valid measurements and interpretations of fuel conditions and fuel reduction treatment effects. The broad geographic scope of this study and its well-replicated design will allow the findings of this study to provide an authoritative assessment of the effects of fuel reduction/forest restoration projects currently underway on federal, state and private forestland throughout the Rocky Mountain region.

Principal Investigator: Michael G. Ryan

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

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

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Sigrid C. Resh

Colorado State University

Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship

Co-Principal Investigator

Chuck C. Rhoades

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Federal Cooperator

Dennis E. Ferguson

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Moscow

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   3105 Journal Article International Journal of Forestry Research
view or print   933 Poster Changes in Nitrogen Availability, Soil Microclimate, and Chip Decomposition in Mulching Treatments in Colorado Coniferous Forests
view or print   935 Poster Surface Fuel Loadings in Mulching Treatments in Colorado Coniferous Forest
view or print   1323 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Wood Mulch Effects on Soil Climate and Nitrogen Availability in Mechanical Fuel Reduction Treatments
view or print   2088 Training Session Measuring Mulch Fuelbed Loads
view or print   6876 Conference/Symposia/Workshop The Effects of Mulching Treatments in the Forest Herbaceous Layer of Colorado Coniferous Forests
view or print   6940 Conference/Symposia/Workshop Surface Fuels in Mulch Treatments in Colorado’s Coniferous Forests

Supporting Documents

The following supporting documents are available for this project.

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