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Fire Monitoring Plots

(Fire Monitoring Handbook Plots)

Fire, a major mechanism of change on the Refuge landscape, can be ecologically beneficial. Fires can reduce forest fuel, create new early-successional hardwood forest stands for moose and other wildlife species, and maintain higher diversity in successional stages across a landscape. Understanding the role of fire in ecological change helps the Refuge meet fire management goals, which include reducing the wildland fire threat in urban interfaces, recreation areas, and critical management areas, as well as using wildland and prescribed fire to maintain or improve existing natural ecosystem diversity.

Refuge ecologists installed a set of 71fire monitoring plots from 1994 to 2000, mainly in unburned areas slated for prescribed burns, with a few plots added in post-burn locations. Detailed data collection included measures of fuel loads, burn severity, herbaceous vegetation and shrub cover, and seedling and tree metrics. The Refuge adopted National Park Service Fire Monitoring Handbook (FMH) protocols (USDOI National Park Service 2003), which were developed as a monitoring tool to assess vegetation and fuel loading over time as they relate to fire. The FMH program was designed to document basic information, to detect trends, and to ensure that parks meet their fire and resource management objectives. The results were intended to be used as tools for assessing the effects of past fires and the appropriateness of potential management actions. FMH protocols were used to meet Refuge goals to document potential changes in fuel loads, abundance of browse species, and species richness in the aftermath of fires at Mystery Creek and Windy Point.

The majority of plots were installed and simultaneously surveyed between 1994 and 1998. Seven study areas were measured, including three areas of planned prescribed burns, and four areas recently burned by wildfires. The FMH plots are located within five study areas: Mystery Creek (42 plots), Lily Lake (4 plots), Windy Point Fire (4 plots), Pothole Lake Fire (6 plots), and Hidden Creek Fire (4 plots). The remaining plots were located at East Road (2 plots) and in the vicinity of moose exclosures up Swanson River Road (6 plots). Plots were rectangular (50 m × 20 m) with its major axis oriented at a random azimuth. Three plots were installed on existing moose exclosures.

Forty-two plots were installed in the Mystery Creek study area from 1994 to 1996. A planned prescribed burn in 2002 burned 12 of the 42 FMH plots in the study area. A primary management objective was reduction of hazard fuels, specifically a removal of 90% of the black spruce in the area. A secondary objective was increasing browse species abundance. When surveyed in 2004, the study area was characterized by blackened, partially burned duff, little brush, and blackened, and standing black spruce poles. Four FMH plots were installed in 1997 in the Windy Point fire, caused by an escaped campfire in 1994. These plots were re-measured in 1999 and 2004. This area had been black spruce forest and mixed white spruce and paper birch forest before the fire. When the plots were established, the area was characterized by standing snags and downed slash over mineral soil with high densities of new birch seedlings.

Post-fire analysis of the burned plots at Mystery Creek and the Windy Point plots showed an overall decrease in fuel loads. The amount of browse species stayed steady at Mystery Creek (with some increase in willow). Windy Point saw a huge flush of birch seedlings which died out due to competition, but then surged in biomass several years after the fire, while quaking aspen and cottonwoods were slower to colonize with much lower densities. In terms of vegetation species richness, most species survived the Mystery Creek burn, and recovered within a few years of the fire. Windy Point vegetation richness gradually increased over time, with new species appearing in later plot re-measurements. These data comparisons illustrate some of the greater trends that we expect to occur across the Refuge, and give information on what to expect post fire for wildfire risk reduction and wildlife habitat enhancement.

The other study areas include post-fire sites (Pothole Lake Fire, Hidden Creek Fire, East Road), a pre-prescribed burn area (Lily Lake), and moose browse effect sites (Skilak Lake Loop Road and Moose Research Center exclosure plot sites). Re-measurement of these plots will provide additional insight into trends of post fire succession and regeneration success, as well as highlight further opportunity for prescribed burn areas and establishment of new plots in post-burn sites.

Bowser, M. L. 2010. Fire Monitoring Handbook plots, monitoring protocol. Soldotna, Alaska: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. 

Bowser, M. L., & Berg, E. E. 2005. Report on the Fire Management Handbook Plots on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska. Soldotna, Alaska: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Kenai National Wildlife Refuge. 

USDOI National Park Service (NPS). 2003. Fire Monitoring Handbook. Boise (ID): Fire Management Program Center, National Interagency Fire Center. 274p.

Last Updated: Dec 19, 2012
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