Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, California
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks have been a leader in fire research and the implementation of a fire management program emphasizing both prescribed management ignitions and prescribed natural fire (now called wildland fire used for resource benefit - WFURB). Objectives of the program were originally centered on the reduction of unnatural fuel accumulations but more recent emphasis has combined fuel reduction with restoration of ecosystem structure and function within ecosystems. Coupled with the fire management program has been an active research, inventory and monitoring program conducting a variety of fire related studies. These studies and their results are important in providing information about short- or long-term resource responses and impacts when burning and whether the planned objectives for the burn program are being met. This information feeds back into management planning and permits modification and fine tuning of the burn program. Additionally, it provides up-to-date information to the public and policy makers.
In past years this annual report summarized research, inventory, and monitoring activities within the East Fork drainage associated with the Mineral King Risk Reduction Project (MKRRP). Beginning in 1999 this and future reports will compile and describe work carried out from throughout the Parks, in addition to work relating to the ongoing MKRRP. Because of the research and monitoring emphasis placed on the MKRRP the majority of the projects described in this report focus on the East Fork. The MKRRP was originally 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. Because the scale of the project is unprecedented, a number of integrated monitoring and research projects were initiated to assess the impacts and responses of key components of the watershed to prescribed fire. Additional projects have also been initiated to utilize this opportunity to gain additional insights into fire's role in Sierran ecosystems.
Several noteworthy observations or findings were made by the various research and resource studies. Fire effects plots show overstory tree mortality vary by vegetation type: from 24% in red fir forest, to 49% in sequoia mixed-conifer forest (no mortality of overstory sequoias was noted), to 66% in low elevation mixed-conifer forest. Fuel reductions in the fire effects plots varied from 77% in sequoia mixed-conifer forest to 97% in ponderosa pine forest one year postfire. Watershed sampling completed its second full water year of sampling, providing preburn data on trends within the East Fork. Initial results suggest similar annual shifts in flow, pH, and ANC (acid neutralization capacity) when compared to other unburned Sierran watersheds. Fire history sampling indicates there were dramatic differences in the frequency of pre-Euroamerican settlement fire by aspect. Sampling in the East Fork drainage suggests differences were about three times greater in lower elevation conifer forest on south aspects than in comparable vegetation on north aspects. Research looking at fire and vegetation diversity indicates that in both ponderosa pine and mixed conifer forests patches of high fire intensity exhibit increases in species richness. Additionally, these patches are also the most susceptible to invasion by exotics.
The Park's area encompasses 349,676 ha (864,067 ac) with elevations ranging from 485 to 4,392 m (1,600 to 14,495 ft). Vegetation of the area is diverse, varying from foothills chaparral and hardwood forests at lower elevations to alpine vegetation at elevations above about 3,100 m (10-11,000 ft).Burning in the Parks during 1999 amounted to 2,437 ha (6,019.1 ac) with 554 ha (1,369 ac) in the East Fork drainage associated with the MKRRP. Of all park area burned 343 ha (848 ac) were wildland fires and 2,094 ha (5,171.1 ac) were prescribed fire.