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Slash Pile Burning Effects on Soil Biotic and Chemical Properties and Plant Establishment: Recommendations for Amelioration



Ponderosa pine forest restoration consists of thinning trees and reintroducing prescribed fire to reduce unnaturally high tree densities and fuel loads to restore ecosystem structure and function. A current issue in ponderosa pine restoration is what to do with the large quantity of slash that is created from thinning dense forest stands. Slash piling burning is currently the preferred method of slash removal because it allows land managers to burn large quantities of slash in a more controlled environment in comparison with broadcast burning slash. However burning slash piles is known to have adverse effects such as soil sterilization and exotic species establishment. This study investigated the effects of slash pile burning on soil biotic and chemical variables and early herbaceous succession on burned slash pile areas. Slash piles were created following tree thinning in two adjacent approximately 20-ha ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) restoration treatments in the Coconino National Forest near Flagstaff, Arizona. We selected 30 burned slash pile areas and sampled across a gradient of the burned piles for arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) propagule densities, the soil seed bank, and soil chemical properties. In addition, we established five 1-m2 plots in each burned pile to quantify the effect of living soil (AM inoculum) and seeding amendments on early herbaceous succession in burned slash pile areas. The five treatments consisted of a control (no treatment), living soil (AM inoculum) amendment, sterilized soil (no AM inoculum) amendment, seed amendment, and a seed/soil (AM inoculum) amendment. Slash pile burning nearly eliminated populations of viable seeds and AM propagules and altered soil chemical properties. Amending scars with native seeds increased the cover of native forbs and grasses. Furthermore adding both seed and living soil more than doubled total native plant cover and decreased ruderal and exotic plant cover. These results indicate that seed/soil amendments that increase native forbs and grasses may enhance the rate of succession in burned slash pile areas by allowing these species to outcompete exotic and ruderal species also establishing at the site through natural regeneration.