Does time since fire drive live aboveground biomass and stand structure in
low fire activity boreal forests? Impacts on their management.
Jeanne Portier, Sylvie Gauthier, Guillaume Cyr, Yves Bergeron.
Boreal forests subject to low fire activity are complex ecosystems in terms of structure and dynamics. They have a high ecological value as they contain important proportions of old forests that play a crucial role in preserving biodiversity and ecological functions. They also sequester important amounts of carbon at the landscape level. However, the role of time since fire in controlling the different processes and attributes of those forests is still poorly understood. The Romaine River area experiences a fire regime characterized by very rare but large fires and has recently been opened to economic development for energy and timber production. In this study, we aimed to characterize this region in terms of live aboveground biomass, merchantable volume, stand structure and composition, and to establish relations between these attributes and the time since the last fire. Mean live aboveground biomass and merchantable volume showed values similar to those of commercial boreal coniferous forests. They were both found to increase up to around 150 years after a fire before declining. However, no significant relation was found between time since fire and stand structure and composition. Instead, they seemed to mostly depend on stand productivity and non-fire disturbances. At the landscape level, this region contains large amounts of biomass and carbon stored resulting from the long fire cycles it experiences. Although in terms of merchantable volume these forests seemed profitable for the forest industry, a large proportion were old forests or presented structures of old forests. Therefore, if forest management was to be undertaken in this region, particular attention should be given to these old forests in order to protect biodiversity and ecological functions. Partial cutting with variable levels of retention would be an appropriate management strategy as it reproduces the structural complexity of old forests.