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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Historical and contemporary disturbance regimes in central interior dry forests of British Columbia Brookes, Wesley


Accurate historical reconstructions of disturbance regimes are necessary because current approaches toward more sustainable forest practices attempt to model forest management after historical disturbance regimes and recovery processes. Using dendrochronological analyses, I characterized both the historical fire regime and outbreaks of western spruce budworm (Choristoneura occidentalis Freeman) within a dry mixed-conifer forest to assess whether contemporary regimes are outside the historical range of variation. By determining the degree of change between the historical fire regime and the current, I provide insight into the potential consequences that fire suppression has had on resilience to fire and budworm. Historical fires burned in 23 different years from 1619 to 1943 with a mean interval of 15 years. Beginning in the later part of the 19th century fire patterns changed, such that the current fire-free period drastically exceeds the historical maximum fire-free intervals at all but 1 plot. Fire scars and post-fire cohorts varied among plots and indicated fires burned at mixed severities through time and space. Eight western spruce budworm outbreaks initiated between 1800 and 2001 with mean a mean duration of 14 years and mean return interval of 29 years. Outbreaks of a range of durations, frequencies, and severities were well represented throughout the record with no discernable trend in time. There was no significant difference between the number and timing of infestations initiating in plot canopies or subcanopies. The simple linear regression analyses determined plot-level subcanopy tree density (R² = 0.02; p = 0.43,) and the ratio of subcanopy to canopy tree densities (R² = 0.02; p = 0.48) to be poor predictors of severity during the outbreak from 2001 to 2011. It is strongly suspected that in the absence of fire in the 20th century, the forest has become denser and has lost a substantial degree of structural diversity. In addition, accumulations of ladder and surfaces fuels have also occurred and leave the forest at increased risk of a high-severity stand-replacing fire and less resilient to budworm attack.

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