Fire effects on prairies and oak woodlands on Fort Lewis, Washington
Tveten, R. K.
Fonda, R. W.
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Before 1800, frequent fires maintained Idaho fescue prairies and Garry oak woodlands on Fort Lewis. Fire exclusion in the 1900s, however, has allowed Scot's broom, Douglas-fir, and numerous herbaceous aliens to invade native prairies and oak woodlands. Since 1978, a management program using prescribed fires on 3-5 yr rotations has been used in an effort to maintain the open communities. We evaluated the role of fire on fescue prairies, oak woodlands, and broom thickets using prescribed fires in fall 1994 and spring 1995, and compared preburn/postburn species frequency to identify fire maintainers, increasers, and decreasers. Fall fires were more effective than spring fires, and best promoted native species and communities. Prescribed fires had no effect on Idaho fescue frequency, which maintained dominance in the postfire prairie. Other native prairie graminoids and forbs, and hairy cats-ear, a prominent alien, were maintained by fire. Prescribed fires also maintained open Garry oak woodlands, reduced Scot's broom cover in broom thickets, and killed small Douglas-firs. These fires, however, tended to favor alien species instead of native species. A large prairie subjected to >50 yr of broadcast burns ignited annually by artillery fire has been converted from fescue prairie to an open meadow dominated by hairy cats-ear and alien grasses, such as sweet vernal grass. Of the three regimes we investigated, fire intervals shorter or longer than the 3-5 yr fire rotation now employed on Fort Lewis are detrimental to fescue prairie and oak woodland. Excessive burning or fire exclusion causes loss of prairie and oak woodland