Ponderosa pine Pinus ponderosa and Douglas-fir Pseudotsuga menziesii forests in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada, are adjacent to grasslands. Forest ingrowth and tree encroachment, mainly due to fire suppression, represent threats to both forest and ranching industries in the region. The use of prescribed burning for ecological restoration is being practiced, but the associated ecosystem effects of restoration treatments have been little studied in the region. We used a randomized complete block design in a prescribed burning experiment. Tree survival and the responses of understory vegetation to burning were monitored for 3 years. The transect method along with crown projection areas (onto the ground) were used in comparisons between areas inside and outside of the burned area. Fire was effective in eliminating small ponderosa pine (dbh < 10 cm) and Douglas-fir (dbh < 20 cm) trees. Therefore, the objective of controlling the encroachment of trees was met by the prescribed burn. Species composition at both sites was modified by prescribed burning, but spatial variability was overridden by treatment and temporal effects. Immediate, short-term reduction of big sagebrush Artemisia tridentata ssp. wyomingensis was observed in grassland sites, while reduction in rabbitbrush Chrysothamnus nauseosus in the forest was observed. Data trends indicate that 3 years after burning, total biomass and forb biomass increased in grasslands, but graminoid biomass in forests was reduced and total understory biomass was not affected by burning. Burning also reduced the shrub component in these ecosystems. While aboveground biomass production may be enhanced by burning in grasslands, the impact of burning on forest understory was minimal and burning may result in reduction of graminoids. Therefore, burning can be used to control tree encroachment and forest ingrowth in this region. Management plans must incorporate topography, species diversity, and tree survival to target areas that are most susceptible to tree encroachment and to achieve desired results. Extended monitoring is necessary to determine the long-term effects of burning on species diversity in and productivity of these ecosystems.
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