Anthony C. Caprio (ed.), Science and Natural Resources Division
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
The Mineral King Risk Reduction Project (MKRRP) was initiated out of a need to assess the operational requirements and cost effectiveness of large scale prescribed burning for wildland management in a setting altered by a century of fire suppression. The direct objectives of the project will be to initiate the reduction of unnatural fuel accumulations and to begin restoration of ecosystem structure and function within the East Fork watershed. However, because the scale of the prescribed burn project is unprecedented, a number monitoring and research projects were also initiated to assess the impacts and responses to the burn of key attributes of both the watershed and the vegetation. These projects and their results are of critical importance since burning on this scale is a new and untried management strategy with little information existing on either short- or long-term resource impacts and responses. Information from these results will feed back into management planning and permit modification and fine tuning of the burn program in addition to providing information to both the public and policy makers.
Following a major planning effort during the spring of 1995, sampling for the MKRRP was begun in June with the objective of collecting baseline or background data in 1995 prior to the initiation of burning. Several types of vegetation sampling was conducted. Standard fire effects monitoring plots were installed in forest and chaparral sites and new Natural Resource Inventory (NRI) plots were established that supplement existing plots in the watershed. An additional study was begun to look at the relationship between fire-scar development in giant sequoias and local fuel loadings. Extensive fuel inventory sampling was also carried out on the south facing aspect of the drainage which will be used as input to the FARSITE fire spread model. Wildlife studies were conducted with these emphasizing fire effects on small mammal populations, but also addressed questions regarding the effects of burning on mountain beaver colonies and fishers populations, sensitive species located in the watershed. Water related sampling was carried out and monitoring equipment installed that looked at stream chemistry, hydrology, and aquatic macroinvertebrates to obtain data on how these will be affected by the burning program. Lastly, fire history sampling was conducted within the watershed to begin looking at spatial extent and variation of past fire events on a landscape scale.
Projects funded out of the Mineral King Risk Reduction Project include fire effects monitoring, fuel and wildlife inventories, and a study on the relationship between fuel loadings and fire impacts on giant sequoia fire scars. Other projects being conducted using resources from within Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon Field Station (National Biological Service) include; natural resource inventory, watershed hydrology, stream chemistry, and fire history. Cooperative research concentrating on aquatic biota in the watershed is also being conducted by the University of California, Davis. Resource and research objectives for 1996 will entail the continuation of most studies that were initiated in 1995. Areas sampled in 1995 will be resampled if they were within the perimeters of the area burned in segment #3 and not already rechecked. New sites to be sampled during 1996 will concentrate on segments scheduled for burning during the summer and fall 1996. These will emphasize fire effects plots, fuel loads, small mammal trapping in new vegetation types, and fire history. Continued sampling will include watershed, and aquatic biota. Resampling of the 1970's Pitcher plots (set up to examine forest structure and fuels in red fir forest) will be given emphasis to acquire these data prior to these plots on the south side of the East Fork being reburned. Two new graduate student studies will also be initiated in the watershed during the summer of 1996. One will use remote sensing data to update vegetation classification for the area and evaluate fuels at a landscape scale while the second will be addressing questions revolving around the means and the landscape-scale consequences of selecting differing mechanisms for restoring forest structure to something near pre-Euroamerican conditions.