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Still standing: recent patterns of post-fire conifer refugia in ponderosa pine-dominated forests of the Colorado Front Range

Authors: Teresa Chapman*, The Nature Conservancy, Tania Schoennagel, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder and Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), University of Colorado Boulder, Thomas T. Veblen, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder, Kyle C. Rodman, Department of Geography, University of Colorado Boulder
Topics: Environmental Science
Keywords: Ponderosa pine, Fire Refugia, Wildfire, Resilience, Colorado, Fire Severity
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Forested fire refugia (trees that survive fires) are important disturbance legacies that provide seed sources for post-fire regeneration. Conifer regeneration has been limited following some recent western fires, particularly in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests. However, the extent, characteristics, and predictability of ponderosa pine fire refugia are largely unknown. Within 23 fires in ponderosa pine-dominated forests of the Colorado Front Range (1996-2013), we evaluated the spatial characteristics and predictability of refugia using landscape variables (topography, weather, anthropogenic factors, and pre-fire forest cover). Using 1-m resolution aerial imagery, we created a binary variable of post-fire conifer presence (‘Conifer Refugia’) and absence (‘Conifer Absence’) within 30-m grid cells. In predicting Conifer Refugia with landscape variables, the most important predictors were: maximum temperature on burn date; soil characteristics; proximity to higher larger order streams, homes, and roads; and less rugged, valley topography. Importantly, pre-fire forest canopy cover was not strongly associated with Conifer Refugia. This study further informs forest management by mapping post-fire patches lacking conifer seed sources and detecting abiotic and topographic variables that may promote conifer refugia.

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