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Project ID: 15-1-05-13

Year: 2015

Date Started: 10/01/2015

Ending Date:  06/15/2020

Title: Manipulating soil heating patterns to optimize barrens restoration

Project Proposal Abstract: Soil heating patterns during wildfire and prescribed fire are notoriously variable and poorly characterized  and yet have among the most profound effects on ecosystem processes and vegetation patterns following burns. The Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest (CNNF) of northern Wisconsin is restoring open barrens and pine savannas to expand these critically endangered ecosystems and, at the same time, reduce fire risk. Restoration often produces high fuel loads that are burned during prescribed fires with potentially countervailing effects. On the one hand, consumption of elevated fuel loads and associated soil heating reduces the nutrient capital of the ecosystem with potentially beneficial effects on barrens grass and forb (herbaceous) vegetation which is adapted to nutrient-poor systems. On the other hand, herbaceous seed banks of barrens species, already depleted from decades of reduced seed input are put at risk from intense soil heating. The proposed study will take advantage of planned prescribed burning activities supporting the establishment and maintenance of open pine barren and savanna ecosystems in the CNNF to investigate 1) the soil heating process, and 2) critical second-order effects of soil heating on soil nutrients, seed banks, and hardwood regeneration. Understanding the interactions of these processes with prescribed burn treatments and the current state of the system (i.e., forest conversion vs barrens maintenance) is fundamental to the success of the burn program. As such, a central objective of our project is to measure soil heating in the barrens restoration context and evaluate the Campbell model which is integrated into the FOFEM (First Order Fire Effects Model) system. In part because of its incorporation in FOFEM, the Campbell model is the most widely used soil heating model for fuel treatment planning and research yet, to our knowledge, no field validation of the model has been published in the refereed literature. We will use a combination of fuel heterogeneity created by mechanical restoration activities and (where necessary) fuel manipulation to construct contrasting fuel loads across critical gradients affecting barrens restoration success. Factors considered within the study design will include restoration stage (barrens and forest conversion), initial forest composition, and fuel loading. Replicate plots will be established within each factor combination. In addition, replicate reference plots will be installed in the Moquah Barrens Research Natural Area and surroundings areas representing the three successional stages (barrens, brush, and closed-canopy forest) and dominant tree species (conifer vs deciduous)  all of original barrens origin. Sampling at each plot location will characterize soil nutrient levels and physical properties (including variables needed to parameterize the soil heating model), seed bank populations, vegetation, and fuels. On burn units, instrumentation will be used to measure soil heating and fire behavior and pre- and post-fire fuel sampling will be used to estimate fuel consumption. FOFEM soil heating will be compared with predictions from the Campbell model that are refined by our measurements of soil properties and fire characteristics. Soil heating will be related to loss of soil organic matter and nutrients, seed mortality in soil seed banks, and hardwood injury and mortality. Laboratory experiments of seed thermal tolerance will be conducted to provide the necessary link between soil heating (from measurements and model output) and seed mortality. Burn severity assessments will be related to soil heating and used to conduct burn-unit scale assessments. The CNNFs extensive barrens restoration efforts provide a unique opportunity for collaboration between research and land management in advancing understanding of the effects soil heating on second-order fire effects within an underrepresented fire-prone ecosystem of critical social and conservation importance.

Principal Investigator: Brian R. Sturtevant

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

Branch or Dept: NRS-Northern Research Station

Other Project Collaborators




Branch or Dept

Agreements Contact

Jay R. Berg Jr.

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Budget Contact

Terry R. Gross

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Matthew B. Dickinson

Forest Service

NRS-Forest Health-Sustaining Forests

Co-Principal Investigator

Christel C. Kern

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Randall K. Kolka

Forest Service

NRS-Northern Research Station

Co-Principal Investigator

Jessica R. Miesel

Michigan State University

Department of Forestry


Deahn M. DonnerWright

Forest Service

NRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Rhinelander WI

Project Locations

Fire Science Exchange Network

Lake States

North Atlantic








Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
  ID Type Title
    7968 Poster Prescribed fire effects on carbon pools and flux from a forest mosaic landscape.
view or print go to website 7966 Field Demonstration/Tour Moquah barrens field tour. A pine barrens restoration project in the Northwest Sands Region of WI
    7967 Poster Quantifying ash characteristics and impact on nutrient availability on a Wisconsin pine barrens rest
  go to website 7969 Invited Paper/Presentation Restoration of fire-dependent pine barren ecosystems in northern Wisconsin  Bridging the gap betwee

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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