Return of Fire as a Restoration Tool: Long-Term Effects of Burn Severity on Habitat Use by Mexican Fox Squirrels

Authors

  • Sandra L. Doumas,

    Corresponding author
    • School of Natural Resources and the Environment, The University of Arizona, 325 Biological Sciences East, Tucson, AZ 85721, U.S.A.
    Search for more papers by this author
  • John L. Koprowski

    1. School of Natural Resources and the Environment, The University of Arizona, 325 Biological Sciences East, Tucson, AZ 85721, U.S.A.
    Search for more papers by this author

S. L. Doumas, email sdoumas@email.arizona.edu

Abstract

After decades of suppression, fire is returning to forests of the western United States through wildfires and prescribed burns. These fires may aid restoration of vegetation structure and processes, which could improve conditions for wildlife species and reduce severe wildfire risk. Understanding response of wildlife species to fires is essential to forest restoration because contemporary fires may not have the same effects as historical fires. Recent fires in the Chiricahua Mountains of southeastern Arizona provided opportunity to investigate long-term effects of burn severity on habitat selection of a native wildlife species. We surveyed burned forest for squirrel feeding sign and related vegetation characteristics to frequency of feeding sign occurrence. We used radio-telemetry within fire-influenced forest to determine home ranges of Mexican fox squirrels, Sciurus nayaritensis chiricahuae, and compared vegetation characteristics within home ranges to random areas available to squirrels throughout burned conifer forest. Squirrels fed in forest with open understory and closed canopy cover. Vegetation within home ranges was characterized by lower understory density, consistent with the effects of low-severity fire, and larger trees than random locations. Our results suggest that return of low-severity fire can help restore habitat for Mexican fox squirrels and other native wildlife species with similar habitat affiliations in forests with a historical regime of frequent, low-severity fire. Our study contributes to an understanding of the role and impact of fire in forest ecosystems and the implications for forest restoration as fire returns to the region.

Ancillary