Impact of prescribed fire and other factors on cheatgrass persistence in a Sierra Nevada ponderosa pine forest.
Following the reintroduction of fire Bromus tectorum has invaded the low elevation ponderosa pine forests in parts of Kings Canyon National Park, California. We used prescribed burns, other field manipulations, germination studies, and structural equation modelling, to investigate how fire and other factors affect the persistence of cheatgrass in these forests. Our studies show that altering burning season to coincide with seed maturation is not likely to control cheatgrass because sparse fuel loads generate low fire intensity. Increasing time between prescribed fires may inhibit cheatgrass by increasing surface fuels (both herbaceous and litter), which directly inhibit cheatgrass establishment, and by creating higher intensity fires capable of killing a much greater fraction of the seed bank. Using structural equation modelling, postfire cheatgrass dominance was shown to be most strongly controlled by the prefire cheatgrass seedbank; other factors include soil moisture, fire intensity, soil N, and duration of direct sunlight. Current fire management goals in western conifer forests are focused on restoring historical fire regimes; however, these frequent fire regimes may enhance alien plant invasion in some forest types. Where feasible, fire managers should consider the option of an appropriate compromise between reducing serious fire hazards and exacerbating alien plant invasions.