Fire management impacts on invasive plants in the Western United States.
Fire management practices affect alien plant invasions in diverse ways. I considered the impact of six fire management practices on alien invasions: fire suppression, forest fuel reduction, prescription burning in crown-fire ecosystems, fuel breaks, targeting of noxious aliens, and postfire rehabilitation. Most western United States forests have had fire successfully excluded for unnaturally long periods of time, and this appears to have favored the exclusion of alien plant species. Forest fuel reduction programs have the potential for greatly enhancing forest vulnerability to alien invasions. In part this is due to the focus on reestablishing pre-Euro-American fire regimes on a landscape that differs from pre-Euro-American landscapes in the abundance of aggressive non-native species. We may be forced to choose between restoring "natural" fire regimes or altering fire regimes to favour communities of native species. Intensive grazing in many western forests may exacerbate the alien problem after fire and temporally decoupling grazing and fire restoration may reduce the alien threat. Many shrubland ecosystems such as the Intermountain West sagebrush steppe or California chaparral have a natural, high-intensity crown fire regime that is less amenable to forest restoration tactics. Historical use of prescribed fire for type conversion of shrublands to more useful grazing lands has played some role in the massive annual grass invasion that threatens these shrublands. Fuel breaks pose a special invasive plant risk because they promote alien invasion along corridors into wildland areas. Use of prescription burning to eliminate noxious aliens has had questionable success, particularly when applied to disturbance-dependent annuals, and success is most likely when coupled with ecosystem restoration that alters the competitive balance between aliens and natives. Artificial seeding of alien species as a form of postfire stabilization appears to cause more problems than it solves and may even enhance alien invasion.