Plant succession and community restoration following felling and burning in the Southern Appalachian Mountains
Recent declines in the yellow pine component of pine-hardwood stands in the Southern Appalachian Mountains has prompted managers to increase the use of fire as a silvicultural tool. The fell and burn treatment is designed to remove competing vegetation (hardwoods and mountain laurel [Kalmia latifolia]) to ensure successful establishment of planted eastern white pine (Pinus strobus). Two years after burning, mountain laurel had accumulated more biomass than any other species and accounted for 43 percent of total biomass in year 1 and 20 percent in year 2. By year 4, mountain laurel ranked fifth (8.9 percent of total) in total biomass among hardwood species, behind Allegheny serviceberry (Amalanchier arborea, 14.3 percent), chestnut oak (Quercus prinus, 13.7 percent), red maple (Acer rubrum, 12.4 percent), and scarlet oak (Q. coccinea, 9.3 percent). Across sites, woody species richness ranged from 19–24 in year 1 and 14–22 in year 4. Species richness varied across sites and years, and there were substantial changes in the distribution of biomass among species.
The introduction of fire allowed the once dominant pitch pine (P. rigida) to successfully reestablish. On our sites, pine accounted for 25 percent of pretreatment stem density, but <1 percent and 2 percent in the first and fourth growing seasons after burning, respectively. However, in year 1, pines had increased in density 20-fold compared to pretreatment levels, and by year 4, had maintained a 17-fold increase compared to pretreatment. The use of fire in forest management has been the subject of considerable criticism. In light of current public concerns over the loss of critical or unique habitats, fire may gain public support for use as a restoration tool.