A 40-Year Record of Tree Establishment Following Chaining and Prescribed Fire Treatments in Singleleaf Pinyon (Pinus monophylla) and Utah Juniper (Juniperus osteosperma) Woodlands

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Abstract

Chaining and prescribed fire treatments have been widely applied throughout pinyon-juniper woodlands of the western United States in an effort to reduce tree cover and stimulate understory growth. Our objective was to quantify effects of treatment on woodland recovery rate and structure and the relative dominance of the two major tree species in our Great Basin study area, singleleaf pinyon (Pinus monophylla Torr. & Frém.) and Utah juniper (Juniperus osteosperma [Torr.] Little). We resampled plots after a 40-yr interval to evaluate species-specific differences in tree survivorship and establishment from posttreatment age structures. Tree age data were collected in 2008 within four chained sites in eastern Nevada, treated in 1958, 1962, 1968, and 1969 and originally sampled in 1971. The same data were collected at five prescribed burn sites treated in 1975 and originally sampled in 1976. All chained sites had greater juniper survival than pinyon survival immediately following treatment. Chained sites with higher tree survival also had the greatest amount of new tree establishment. During the interval between treatment and the 2008 sampling, approximately four more trees per hectare per year established following chaining than following fire. Postfire tree establishment only occurred for the initial 15 yr and was dominated by juniper. Establishment after chaining was dominated by juniper for the first 15 yr but by pinyon for 15-40 yr following treatment. Results support an earlier successional role for juniper than for pinyon, which is more dependent upon favorable microsites and facilitation from nurse shrubs. Repeated chaining at short intervals, or prescribed burning at infrequent intervals, will likely favor juniper dominance. Chaining at infrequent intervals (>20-40 yr) will likely result in regained dominance of pinyon. Chaining treatments can be rapidly recolonized by trees and have the potential to create or amplify landscape-level shifts in tree species composition.

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