Abstract - Some Effects of Fire on Vegetation and Wildlife in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Southern Black Hills

Bock, Jane H. and Bock, Carl E. 1981. Some Effects of Fire on Vegetation and Wildlife in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Southern Black Hills. A joint project, sponsored by the National Park Service, U.S. Department of the Interior (Contracts CX-1200-9-BO34, CX-1200-0-BO18, CX-1200-1-BO22), and the Eisenhower Consortium of the U.S. Forest Service Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, U.S. Department of Agriculture (Grant No. RM-80-105 GR).


Effects of prescription burns upon vegetation, birds, rodents, and bison were studied for three years in ponderosa pine forest and pine-grassland ecotone of Wind Cave National Park, South Dakota. We established study plots and analyzed vegetation in summer 1979, prior to fall 1979 and sprin 1980 burning. Vegetation and wildlife populations were studied in 1980 and 1981, through two post-fire growing seasons. The prescription fires were cool and largely restricted to understory vegetation and fuels. Fire effects upon vegetation cover and density were modest. Prescription burns reduced densities of immature pines and slightly increased herbaceous ground cover. Graminoid cover was generally unaffected. Shrub densities and cover were somewhat reduced through 1980, but largely returned to pre-burn levels after two years of post-fire succession. These results contrasted with effects of a 1974 crown fire, in which pine canopy was lost and shrub cover dramatically increased. Birds, rodents, and bison showed strong positive responses to the prescription burns, but only through the first year of post-fire succession. This suggests that the prescription fires caused short-term changes in the quality of vegetation which were more substantial and important that the comparatively subtle effects upon vegetation cover. These results indicate a need for further research on nutrient and energy content of post-fire vegetation. This study showed that cool prescription fires can be used in the Black Hills as a management tool for reducing fuels in ponderosa pine forests and temporarily improving them as wildlife habitat. To the degree that patches of more substantial browse plants (e.g. raspberry) represent a natural part of the Black Hills environment and a desirable management objective, we recommend further experimentation with prescription fires of greater intensity than those of the present study.

Last updated: April 10, 2015

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