The national fire and fire surrogate study: vegetation changes over 11 years of fuel reduction treatments in the southern Appalachian Mountains
At the Appalachian site of the National Fire and Fire Surrogate Study, prescribed burning was repeated three times and chainsaw felling of shrubs was done twice between 2002 and 2012. Goals were to reduce fuel loading and to promote restoration of an open woodland community. Chainsaw felling created a vertical fuel break, but the effect was temporary, and no restoration goals for other vegetation were achieved. Prescribed burning opened the canopy only slightly and supported graminoids and oak regeneration for a short time after each burn. The combination of mechanical and burning treatments provided open canopies and removed the shrub layer. Graminoid cover increased and oak regeneration was abundant the year after treatment, but both decreased as sprouts of competing shrubs and trees overtopped them. The burn-only and mechanical-plus-burn treatments show promise for eventually creating an open woodland community. However, treatments may need to be repeated numerous times to reach that goal.