Using Topography to Meet Wildlife and Fuels Treatment Objectives in Fire-Suppressed Landscapes

TitleUsing Topography to Meet Wildlife and Fuels Treatment Objectives in Fire-Suppressed Landscapes
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2010
AuthorsUnderwood, E., Viers J. H., Quinn J. F., & North M.
Date Published09/2010
KeywordsEcosystem management, Fuels treatment, Prescribed fire, Restoration, Sierra Nevada, Threatened and endangered species
AbstractPast forest management practices, fire suppression, and climate change are increasing the need to actively manage California Sierra Nevada forests for multiple environmental amenities. Here we present a relatively low-cost, repeatable method for spatially parsing the landscape to help the U.S. Forest Service manage for different forest and fuel conditions to meet multiple goals relating to sensitive species, fuels reduction, forest products, water, carbon storage, and ecosystem restoration. Using the Kings River area of the Sierra Nevada as a case study, we create areas of topographically- based units, Landscape Management Units (LMUs) using a three by three matrix (canyon, mid-slope, ridge-top and northerly, southerly, and neutral aspects). We describe their size, elevation, slope, aspect, and their difference in inherent wetness and solar radiation. We assess the predictive value and field applicability of LMUs by using existing data on stand conditions and two sensitive wildlife species. Stand conditions varied significantly between LMUs, with canyons consistently having the greatest stem and snag densities. Pacific fisher (Martes pennanti) activity points (from radio telemetry) and California spotted owl (Strix occidentalis occidentalis) nests, roosts, and sightings were both significantly different from uniform, with a disproportionate number of observations in canyons, and fewer than expected on ridge-tops. Given the distinct characteristics of the LMUs, these units provide a relatively simple but ecologically meaningful template for managers to spatially allocate forest treatments, thereby meeting multiple National Forest objectives. These LMUs provide a framework that can potentially be applied to other fire-dependent western forests with steep topographic relief.