Wow, thanks for that. Almost forgot about the short term benefits of slash and burn agriculture! I figured that I'd better check things out in more detail, so I wouldn't shove my foot into my mouth. This may get rather dry.
"Fire acts as a rapid mineralizing agent (St. John and Rundel 1976) that releases nutrients instantaneously as contrasted to natural decomposition processes, which may require years or, in some cases, decades." So the organic matter on the forest floor acts as a slow release fertilizer and a fire releases the remaining nutrients for plant use.
"Fire does volatize the most needed nutrients such as 98 to 100% loss of nitrogen (N), 70 to 90% loss of sulfur (S), and 20 to 40% loss of phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) in field bio-mass."
According to the Forest Service, "Because N is such an important nutrient in these ecosystems, the replenishment of N lost by volatilization during a fire must receive special consideration."
In the Pacific Northwest, "Nitrogen is an extremely important nutrient because it is the one that is most likely to limit tree growth in forests and other wild land ecosystems (Maars and others 1983). Because of this inherent limitation, significant losses of N during a fire could adversely affect long-term site productivity in many wild land ecosystems, particularly if N replenishment mechanisms are not provided for during post fire management.
Nitrogen contained in unburned forest litter and soil is released solely by biological processes and is referred to as being regulated by "biochemical cycling" (McGill and Cole 1981). Because of the close relationship between carbon (C) and N, C:N ratios play an important role in regulating the decomposition rate of OM and, as a result, control the rate at which N and other nutrients are released and cycled (Turner 1977).
The role of S in ecosystem productivity is not well understood, although its fluctuations in the soil appear to parallel that of inorganic N. Sulfur is considered the second most limiting nutrient in some coastal forest soils of the Pacific Northwest, particularly when forest stands are fertilized with N (Barnett 1989)."
In 'Red flags of warning in land clearing' by L. S. Hamilton, "Critchley and Bruijnzeel (1996) succinctly sum up the impacts of burning "Not only do the more volatile constituents like nitrogen and carbon go up in smoke by burning slash, depending on the intensity of the fire, 25-80% of all the calcium, potassium, and phosphorous present in the slash may be lost this way as well...to make matters worse, nutrients which remain in the ash are vulnerable to removal in runoff and leaching."
So yep, the ash does contain many valuable nutrients, but the majority are "up in smoke" or lost by leaching and surface erosion. The funny part is that this could be considered a natural cycle of the forests. Over time the forest will recover and rebuild the carbon and nitrogen needed for the cation exchange sites. That's the kicker. We as individuals don't have that extra hundred years to wait and see.
WranglerStar uses small, low intensity fires, so he retains a lot more of the nutrients than if the fires were hotter. It's my guess that his forest might be even more productive and healthy if he chipped what slash he could. I like the hugelkultur idea, but it comes back to the availability of heavy equipment. Do they really need hugelkultur if they get in excess of 24 inches of precipitation each year? I believe Cody and family have done wonders with the forest preserve and he is reintroducing the native pines and repairing the damage done by the "loggers from hell". Truly they are Stewards of the Land, high praise in my book.
So a thumbs up for all the regenerative forestry and permaculture techniques that you have been able to use. You channel is one of my favorites.