Piñon-juniper

Management of piñon-juniper ecosystems is particularly complex because of the large area the forest type covers and the differences between types of piñon-juniper. Because of renewed interested in managing piñon-juniper landscapes there are new efforts to define restoration or ecological forestry in piñon-juniper. As these become available they will be included here.

Tools and Links

Management

Forest Health

Discussion ^

Piñon-juniper forests in the Southwest are more diverse than ponderosa pine forests in structure and fire history. In general, there are three broad categories of piñonjuniper ecosystems: savannas, shrublands, and persistent woodlands.

Piñon-juniper or juniper savannas are usually found on low hills or valleys with deep soils, where precipitation comes mostly during summer monsoons. Savannas have low tree densities because of limited water or because cool fires burn through them frequently. There is some debate on types and frequencies of fire in piñon-juniper savannas. 

Piñon-juniper shrublands have higher densities of trees than savannas, although densities vary from scattered trees with a thick understory to dense trees with a sparse understory. Shrubland trees tend to be short with multiple stems. Although there is debate, the current consensus is that shrublands historically experienced moderately frequent, mixed-severity fires which were carried by trees and shrubs. These fires were often patchy, burning some clumps within a stand.

Piñon-juniper persistent woodlands tend to have older and denser trees within them. Fires are less frequent in persistent woodlands, and these woodlands may be relatively stable for 100 to 1000 years. When fires burn through persistent woodlands they tend to be large, severe fires that kill many trees and start the growth of a new stand. Persistent woodlands usually grow on rugged upland sites with rocky soil.

Recommendations for developing an ecological prescription for piñon-juniper ecosystems from A Short Guide for Developing CFRP Restoration Prescriptions include:

  • Restoration of piñon-juniper should try to identify the type of ecosystem – savanna or shrubland – and use the ecosystem type to guide the prescription. You may identify the ecosystem type with assistance from land managers, university staff, or New Mexico State Forestry. Soil erosion and site degradation can justify proactive management in savannas and shrublands – even where it is difficult to show that densities have changed.
  • No restoration treatments should occur in persistent woodlands. Since persistent piñon - juniper woodlands likely experience high-intensity fires only infrequently, they probably do not need restoration to a past condition. Fuel reduction treatments may be appropriate in order to protect structures and communities from the occasional hot fires that burn naturally in this type of woodland.
  • In savannas, reintroduce low intensity fires. If there are large areas of bare soil, you may need to lop and scatter slash in order for the fire to carry through the stand. In time, understory plants will recover sufficiently to carry cool fires across the surface.
  • In shrublands, thin trees and distribute the slash on the ground to help protect soil and encourage grass and shrub growth.
  • Plan for follow-up treatments in sites with juniper. Some juniper species, such as alligator juniper, resprout from the stump after being cut. You will need to follow initial treatments with prescribed fire or additional thinnings.
  • Preserve large snags for wildlife.