ESA 2020: Where and How We Plant Trees

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Presentation from the 2020 annual meeting of the Ecological Society of America (ESA), which took place online August 3-6, 2020.
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Where and How We Plant Trees: Challenges to Successful Reforestation and Emerging Strategies on How to Achieve It

Marin Chambers, Colorado State University

Kyle Rodman, University of Wisconsin, Madison

Teresa Chapman, University of Colorado, Boulder


In an era of increasingly large and severe wildfires, post-fire reforestation strategies in large high severity burn areas experience a multitude of challenges, and can benefit from emerging strategies to aide management decisions. Challenges for post-fire reforestation include: low available seed or seedling stock, high moisture stress resulting in high seedling mortality, competing natural or invasive vegetation, high investment cost for managing agencies, safety considerations for planting personnel, and the potential for reburning to occur following plantings. 


However, spatial and operational planning strategies and can aide managing agencies in prioritizing and optimizing limited resources for post-fire planting while also achieving higher ecological benefit and services in the long term. Spatial planning strategies include: consideration of future climatic suitability for chosen planted species, mapping size and shape of high severity burn areas to identify areas located away from surviving trees, identifying areas known to have higher moisture (i.e., using Topographic Wetness Index, Climate Water Deficit, Vapor Pressure Deficit, etc. layers) or at higher elevations or on northerly aspects, and identifying areas with coarse wood or other objects that can provide nurse effects. Additional spatial considerations would be the consideration of areas most beneficial to ecological services (i.e., increased connectivity of wildlife corridors, planting for benefit for watershed services, etc.), or utilizing topography to maximize the ability for plantings to spread seed longer distances when trees reach reproductive maturity. Emerging operational strategies also include: prescribe burning targeted areas ahead of planting, utilizing drought conditioned seedlings, adopting planting strategies that more closely mimic natural structure (i.e., legacy planting), planting in multiple areas to increase survivability in event of future wildfires, and timing plantings during cooler and wetter periods (i.e., during El Nino events).