Ecological Effects of Prescribed Fire Season: A Literature Review and Synthesis for Managers


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Prescribed burning may be conducted at times of the year when fires were infrequent historically, leading to concerns about potential adverse effects on vegetation and wildlife. Historical and prescribed fire regimes for different regions in the continental United States were compared and literature on season of prescribed burning synthesized. In regions and vegetation types where considerable differences in fuel consumption exist among burning seasons, the effects of prescribed fire season appears, for many ecological variables, to be driven more by fire-intensity differences among seasons than by phenology or growth stage of organisms at the time of fire. Where fuel consumption differs little among burning seasons, the effect of phenology or growth stage of organisms is often more apparent, presumably because it is not overwhelmed by fire-intensity differences. Most species in ecosystems that evolved with fire appear to be resilient to one or few out-of-season prescribed burn(s). However, a variable fire regime including prescribed burns at different times of the year may alleviate the potential for undesired changes and maximize biodiversity.