The Effect of Prescribed Burns and Wildfire on Vegetation in Bastrop State Park, TX

Wednesday, 17 December 2014
Christina Jade Justice, University of Maryland College Park, College Park, MD, United States
In 2011, central Texas had its worst drought since the 1950’s. This, in conjunction with the strong winds produced by Tropical Storm Lee created conditions that made possible the Bastrop County Complex Fire in September 2011. These record-breaking wildfires burned over 95% of the 6,565-acre Bastrop State Park (BSP). Since 2003, BSP had been using prescribed burns as a management practice to reduce fuel load and prevent high severity wildfires. Although these prescribed fires did not prevent the 2011 wildfires they may have mitigated their effects. This study considered the effect of prescribed burn history and wildfire burn severity on vegetation recovery in BSP since the 2011 wildfire. The hypotheses of this study are that prescribed burn history and wildfire burn severity separately and jointly have affected post wildfire vegetation. To test these hypotheses, data were collected in 2013 from 46 plots across BSP using the Fire Effects Monitoring and Inventory (FIREMON) protocol to determine herbaceous plant density, shrub density, overstory density, and midstory tree density. Data were analyzed using analyses of variance (ANOVA) to determine the effects of prescribed fire and wildfire severity on these vegetation measurements. It was found that more severely burned plots had more herbaceous plants, fewer midstory trees, and lower shrub densities than less severely burned plots. Contrary to an initial hypotheses, there were few relationships between prescribed burn history and wildfire effects. The only significant effect detected for prescribed burning was the positive effect of prescribed fire on midstory tree density, but only for plots that were not severely burned in the wildfire. In this system, burn severity had a greater effect on post-wildfire vegetation than prescribed burns.