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Project ID: 10-1-01-10

Year: 2010

Date Started: 02/01/2011

Ending Date:  09/30/2014

Title: Mastication Effects on Fuels, Plants, and Soils in Four Western U.S. Ecosystems: Trends with Time-Since-Treatment

Project Proposal Abstract: Over the past several years, fire managers have increased their use of mastication treatments, the on-site disposal of shrubs and small-diameter trees through chipping and shredding. Mastication is a relatively untested management practice that alters the chemical and physical conditions of the forest floor and may influence vegetation regrowth and fuel development for years or decades. Mulch additions increase both the load and continuity of surface fuels, and create a new forest floor layer that may act as a physical barrier to plant germination or as a nutrient sink that retards plant growth. Plant inhibition by mulch layers could be short-lived, and, with time plant growth might be stimulated by changes in soil resources and site conditions as mulch layers age. The long-term effectiveness of mulch treatments will depend on physical and chemical conditions of the mulch layer, how these influence forest floor and soil resources and the recovery of herbaceous and ladder fuels. The slow mulch decomposition in arid and cold western forests may extend the consequences of this management treatment on plant germination, soil nutrient availability, and plant productivity for many years. This is especially relevant for masticated fuel treatments in the Colorado wildland urban interface, where the use of prescribed fire as a follow-up treatment is not feasible and decomposition will determine the rate of surface fuel load reduction. It is likely that mulch effects will vary among forest ecosystems due to differences in soil moisture and temperature and overstory and understory structure and composition. Our proposed study includes 18 sites in 4 forest types distributed across the southern Rocky Mountains and Colorado plateau. We apply a common study design to assess factors that control mulch treatment longevity. We will use a network of sites and experiments established under JFS 06-3-2-26 to answer the question  What are the effects of mastication treatments on plants and soils, and how does it vary over time? We will explore these effects within and across four ecosystems, with an emphasis on how ecological responses to mastication vary with mulch quantity and arrangement and through time. Our approach will combine multi-year observational studies, which will identify temporal patterns in plant and soil responses to mastication treatments, with carefully designed manipulation experiments, which will help to elucidate the mechanisms responsible for the trends observed. Our study will determine how mulch depth influences tree seedling and herbaceous plant recruitment, plant and soil productivity, and mulch decomposition rates. We will also characterize how soil N and understory plant communities have changed since our initial assessment across the range of climatic conditions that differentiate four dominant Rocky Mountain conifer ecosystems. Our ecosystem-specific measurements will provide us with a clearer understanding of the mechanisms responsible for the variability in ecological treatment effects observed within and among ecosystems, so we can do a better job of generalizing the results found in Colorado to other ecosystems. This proposed research will benefit from the substantial time and resources invested by our research group and JFSP (06-3-2-26) in site selection, study implementation, and relations built among scientists and resource managers associated with the project. Our goal is to deliver our research findings through a variety of methods including an interactive management workshop, regional field trips, Best Management Practice recommendations and peer-reviewed scientific publications. The broad geographic scope of this study and its replicated design will allow the findings of this study to provide a scientific assessment the effects of mastication treatments on plants and soils and how it varies over time since treatment in the absence of prescribed fire.

Principal Investigator: Michael A. Battaglia

Agency/Organization: Forest Service

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


Other Project Collaborators

Type

Name

Agency/Organization

Branch or Dept

Co-Principal Investigator

Paula J. Fornwalt

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Co-Principal Investigator

Chuck C. Rhoades

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Co-Principal Investigator

Monique E. Rocca

Colorado State University

Department of Forest, Rangeland & Watershed Stewardship

Collaborator/Contributor

Michael G. Ryan

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Federal Cooperator

Michael A. Battaglia

Forest Service

RMRS-Forestry Sciences Lab-Fort Collins

Federal Fiscal Representative

Susan T. Major

Forest Service

RMRS-Rocky Mountain Research Station


Project Locations

Consortium

Southern Rockies


Level

State

Agency

Unit

REGIONAL

Interior West

FS

REGIONAL

Interior West

STATE

REGIONAL

Interior West

BLM

REGIONAL

Interior West

PRIVATE

REGIONAL

Interior West

LOCAL


Project Deliverables

There is no final report available for this project.
  ID Type Title
view or print   5309 Invited Paper/Presentation Tree Seedling Germination and Establishment in Masticated Forest Stands, Colorado
view or print   5311 Invited Paper/Presentation Mastication as a Fuels Treatment: Short-Term Ecological Implications of Mulching the Forest
view or print   4184 Poster Long-Term Ecological Effects of Mastication Fuels Reduction Treatments in Colorado

Supporting Documents

There are no supporting documents available for this project.

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