Land ownership impacts post-wildfire forest regeneration in Sierra Nevada mixed-conifer forests

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Understanding forest regeneration in the wake of large-scale wildfire events is critically important because these disturbances are expected to occur more frequently given future climate projections. While the impacts of individual management prescriptions on prevention, mitigation, and response to severe fire events have been studied, the influence of property ownership on their implementation and success has received less attention. The objective of this study was to compare how the management practices of two common US forestland owners- public (U.S. Forest Service) and a private forest resource company- influenced forest regeneration following a 26,000 ha wildfire in the northern Sierra Nevada. Spectral unmixing was used to track revegetation for 11 years following a 2007 wildfire. Classified vegetation maps were field validated and generated using remotely sensed imagery for the 2007 (pre-fire) and 2018 timepoints to track landcover transitions. Public ownership within the fire perimeter was the majority at 18,760 ha, while private ownership accounted for 7617 ha. Significant differences in forest regeneration were found with vegetation establishment on publicly owned lands occurring at twice the rate of their privately owned counterpart. However, by 2018 over half (10,062 ha) of publicly owned lands converted from forest (pre-fire) to a shrub-dominated land-cover type while only 2.2% (122 ha) of privately owned lands did so. Additionally, only 1% (249 ha) of publicly owned lands were characterized by young regenerating conifer forests, whereas approximately 70% (3875 ha) of privately owned lands were characterized as such. These results demonstrate a strong contrast in post-fire vegetation regeneration that will likely persist for many decades into the future. The implications of this contrast significantly impact the ecosystem services these forests provide, as well as future disturbance potential.

Publication Title

Forest Ecology and Management

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forest succession, remote sensing, wildfire