Forest thinning and subsequent bark beetle-caused mortality in Northeastern California.
The Warner Mountains of northeastern California on the Modoc National Forest experienced a high incidence of tree mortality (2001-2007) that was associated with drought and bark beetle (Coleoptera: Curculionidae, Scolytinae) attack. Various silvicultural thinning treatments were implemented prior to this period of tree mortality to reduce stand density and increase residual tree growth and vigor. Our study: (1) compared bark beetle-caused conifer mortality in forested areas thinned from 1985 to 1998 to similar, non-thinned areas and (2) identified site, stand and individual tree characteristics associated with conifer mortality. We sampled ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa var ponderosa Dougl. ex Laws.) and Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi Grev. and Balf.) trees in pre-commercially thinned and non-thinned plantations and ponderosa pine and white fir (Abies concolor var lowiana Gordon) in mixed conifer forests that were commercially thinned, salvage-thinned, and non-thinned. Clusters of five plots (1/50th ha) and four transects (20.1×100.6 m) were sampled to estimate stand, site and tree mortality characteristics. A total of 20 pre-commercially thinned and 13 non-thinned plantation plot clusters as well as 20 commercially thinned, 20 salvage-thinned and 20 non-thinned mixed conifer plot clusters were established. Plantation and mixed conifer data were analyzed separately. In ponderosa pine plantations, mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae Hopkins) (MPB) caused greater density of mortality (trees ha-1 killed) in non-thinned (median 16.1 trees ha-1) compared to the pre-commercially thinned (1.2 trees ha-1) stands. Percent mortality (trees ha-1 killed/trees ha-1 host available) was less in the pre-commercially thinned (median 0.5%) compared to the non-thinned (5.0%) plantation stands. In mixed conifer areas, fir engraver beetles (Scolytus ventralis LeConte) (FEN) caused greater density of white fir mortality in non-thinned (least square mean 44.5 trees ha-1) compared to the commercially thinned (23.8 trees ha-1) and salvage-thinned stands (16.4 trees ha-1). Percent mortality did not differ between commercially thinned (least square mean 12.6%), salvage-thinned (11.0%), and non-thinned (13.1%) mixed conifer stands. Thus, FEN-caused mortality occurred in direct proportion to the density of available white fir. In plantations, density of MPB-caused mortality was associated with treatment and tree density of all species. In mixed conifer areas, density of FEN-caused mortality had a positive association with white fir density and a curvilinear association with elevation.