Moonlight fire reforestation

How should we restore forests following severe wildfire?

That was the question motivating a research partnership between the Stephens Lab, the Plumas National Forest, and the USFS Pacific Southwest Research Station. The Moonlight fire of 2008 was an early example of the sort of large and high-severity wildfires we’re seeing across Californian forests. In some areas, there were no surviving trees to produce the next generation of seedlings, potentially resulting in the permenant loss of forest across much of the landscape.

In 2018, the Plumas National Forest undertook major efforts to restore forests across the area affected by the Moonlight fire. I worked with other researchers and park staff to establish research plots monitoring fuels, shrub cover, and seedling success across a range of experimental treatments. The goal is to establish a long-term study assessing the impacts of different planting patterns and followup treatments, but the project has already produced important research:

Moore, Ian B., et al. “Variability in wildland fuel patches following high-severity fire and post-fire treatments in the northern Sierra Nevada.” International Journal of Wildland Fire 30.12 (2021): 921-932.

Much of the study area reburned in the 2021 Dixie Fire, and we hope to return to the project in 2022 to assess whether the different reforestation treatments responded differently to the wildfire.

Photo credits: Kathryn Low