Many ponderosa pine and mixed‐conifer forests of the western, interior United States have undergone substantial structural and compositional changes since settlement of the West by Euro‐Americans. Historically, these forests consisted of widely spaced, fire‐tolerant trees underlain by dense grass swards. Over the last 100 years they have developed into dense stands consisting of more fire‐sensitive and disease‐susceptible species. These changes, sometimes referred to as a decline in “forest health,” have been attributed primarily to two factors: active suppression of low‐intensity fires (which formerly reduced tree recruitment, especially of fire‐sensitive, shade‐tolerant species), and selective logging of larger, more fire‐tolerant trees. A third factor, livestock grazing, is seldom discussed, although it may be as important as the other two factors. Livestock alter forest dynamics by (1) reducing the biomass and density of understory grasses and sedges, which otherwise outcompete conifer seedlings and prevent dense tree recruitment, and (2) reducing the abundance of fine fuels, which formerly carried low‐intensity fires through forests. Grazing by domestic livestock has thereby contributed to increasingly dense western forests and to changes in tree species composition. In addition, exclosure studies have shown that livestock alter ecosystem processes by reducing the cover of herbaceous plants and litter, disturbing and compacting soils, reducing water infiltration rates, and increasing soil erosion.
Conservation Biology – Wiley
Published: Apr 20, 1997
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