Monday, 17 November 2003: 4:00 PM
Biodiversity and resource applications: Application of the fire regime condition class process to collaborative multi-scale land management planning in the Boston Mountains, Arkansas
Collaborative fire management planning depends on landscape managers finding common ground in their understanding of ecosystem structure and function and in estimates of desired future landscape conditions. The Boston Mountains, Arkansas landscape is dominated by oak-hickory and oak-pine ecosystems that have been altered in composition and structure as a result of past timber management and fire exclusion activities. The Ozark-St. Francis National Forest, The Nature Conservancy, the Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission, private landowners and others are currently engaged in a collaborative project to restore these oak-hickory and oak-pine ecosystems. Due to past land management activities, there is substantially more closed canopy forests (oak-hickory, oak-pine and shortleaf pine), and less woodlands/savannas (oak-hickory-pine woodland/savanna, oak-hickory woodland, and shortleaf pine woodland/savanna) than occurred historically under a more frequent fire regime. Historically, low intensity fires burned these systems about every 2-15 years. Plant and animal species, such as the royal catchfly, northern bobwhite, Bachman’s sparrow, Diana fritillary, Indiana bat, and elk are adapted to the vegetation mosaics that were historically maintained by this more frequent fire regime. In 2003, a project scale Fire Regime Condition Class process was applied at multiple scales to the Boston Mountains to facilitate determination of spatially-explicit landscape scale restoration goals and priorities. In 2002, the USDA Forest Service produced spatial Fire Regime Condition Class (FRCC) data for the conterminous United States (1 km2 resolution) to support national-level fire planning and risk assessments. Coarse scale FRCC integrates spatial data on biophysical site potential, current vegetative conditions, and historical fire regimes as a coarse measure of the current degree of departure from historical fire regimes. However, this coarse data was not intended for application at finer resolutions, such as for National Forest, Conservation Area or other project-level planning. In April 2003, the USDA Forest Service, Interior Agencies, and The Nature Conservancy completed version 1.1 of a project scale Fire Regime and Condition Class (FRCC) guidebook, intended to help practitioners apply the concepts of FRCC to finer spatial extents (e.g., 10s to 100s of thousands of acres). By following the FRCC process, landscape project teams can collaboratively develop the ecological information necessary to determine the departure between current and reference fire frequency, fire severity, and vegetation mosaics, and in turn, after integration with other data sources determine project priorities and implementation plans. Quantifying fire regime condition departure facilitates the assessment of current ecological sustainability risks, abundance of vegetation-fuel classes relative to reference conditions, and short- and long-term management priorities for diverse resources across and between landscapes. At the scale of the 297,000-acre Bayou Ranger District, this spatially-explicit assessment of fire regime and vegetation-fuel conditions pilots a prototype for revisions to fire- and other resource-related management direction in the Ozark-St. Francis National Forest Land Management Plan. At the scale of ecosystem restoration areas (6,800 – 12,550 acres), the assessment is facilitating the collaborative development of ecologically-based landscape management goals and objectives by landscape partners. At multiple scales, calculation and mapping of current FRCC will act as a baseline for tracking fire regime restoration success.