Wildfire and Climate Change in Mixed-Conifer Ecosystems of the Northern Rockies: Implications for Forest Recovery and Management Thesis uri icon



  • Thesis (Ph.D., Natural Resources) -- University of Idaho, 2015 | As disturbances continue to become more frequent and extensive with climate change, increasing concern is mounting about the ability of dry-mixed conifer forests to recover after wildfire. This concern stems in part from past management strategies, which have impacted the resilience of these forests. As such, future actions that managers propose to deal with climate change impacts will inevitably affect future resilience of these forests. My dissertation examined how climate, disturbance, and landscape variables influenced tree regeneration in dry mixed-conifer forests of the northern Rocky Mountains, using field data combined with downscaled climate data and satellite-derived burn severity data to characterize post-fire seedling regeneration across environmental gradients. Additionally, I examined how forest managers are thinking about climate change impacts and the adaptation measures they are considering to deal with these changes using a combination of breakout group discussions during workshops, interviews and surveys. Distance to a live seed source was one of the most important variables influencing the potential of post-fire regeneration after recent fires. The heterogeneity of the burned mosaic insures that most (> 80%) of the burned landscape is within a distance to live trees for successful regeneration, suggesting high resilience of these forests to recent fire. As climate continue to warm, however, temperature may outweigh the influence of seed source availability on seedling regeneration and the post-fire environment may no longer be favorable for regeneration in much (80%) of the existing dry mixed-conifer zone. Managers desire local climate change predictions that will help them identify thresholds for species resistance or resilience to propose effective management actions. These types of data will help managers move from using current management strategies to using more novel and appropriate techniques to help forests remain resilient to a variety of uncertain future changes. Understanding the diverse and interacting ecological and social factors that influence the recovery or decline of dry mixed-conifer forests will increasingly improve predictions about the future impacts of disturbance, climate change, and management.

publication date

  • June 1, 2015