Effects of prescribed burning, mechanical and chemical treatments to curtail rhododendron dominance and reduce wildfire fuel loads
Rosebay rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum L.) is an ericaceous shrub commonly found in riparian areas of the Appalachian Mountains. After more than a century of fire exclusion in the U.S., the distribution of R. maximum and its dominance of forest understories have increased. Rhododendron expansion has caused a decline in overstory regeneration and the potential for dangerous fuel conditions around suburban structures near the wildland-urban interface. The purpose of this study was to determine the effects of seven silvicultural treatments on both the fuel loading within an R. maximum thicket and the control of R. maximum as a forest weed. The final objective of the project was to determine the cost effectiveness of each implemented treatment.
Due primarily to moisture conditions, a single prescribed burn was relatively ineffective in reducing fuel loading and causing R. maximum mortality. Mechanical cutting caused a drastic shift in the size-class distribution of R. maximum but resulted in heavy sprouting and increased fuel loading. Herbicide application did not reduce or increase fuel loading and was important in R. maximum control only when combined with other treatments. The prescribed burning treatment was the least expensive individual treatment while mechanical cutting was the most expensive. Combination treatments showed increased effectiveness in controlling R. maximum but were more expensive than the individual treatments. The results of the treatments from this study will be used over the long term to demonstrate to land managers the effects of vegetation control on rhododendron.