Fire & Wildlife
Recovery after fire
From the Background...'A rapid decline in whitebark pine has occurred during the last 60 years as a result of three interrelated factors: epidemics of mountain pine beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae); the introduced disease white pine blister rust (Cronartium ribicola); and successional replacement by shade-tolerant conifers, specifically subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) and Engelmann spruce (Picea engelmannii). The effects of these factors have been exacerbated by fire exclusion policies of the last 60 to 80 years (Kendall and Arno 1990; Keane and Arno 1993).' From the Stand Replacement Prescribed Fire...'The low intensity treatments presented in this study attempt to reestablish whitebark pine at the stand level. These treatments are generally, but not specifically, designed to mimic low-severity underburns common in dry whitebark pine forests. However, there are many whitebark pine forests where fire burned entire landscapes in stand-replacement fires (Arno 1986, Keane and Arno 1993). Whitebark pine has a distinct advantage in colonizing these large burns because of the great seed dispersal distances provided by the Clark*s Nutcracker. The nutcracker can disperse whitebark pine seed much further than wind can disperse subalpine fir seed (Schmidt and McDonald 1990). Currently, most whitebark pine stands in the stand-replacement fire regime of the upper subalpine zone are rapidly becoming dominated by subalpine fir due to accelerated succession caused by the rust. These landscapes must have fire reintroduced at an unprecedented scale to mimic the ecological processes that resulted in whitebark pine dominance prior to European settlement (Brown and others 1994). A viable restoration treatment is a prescribed stand-replacement fire that burns a large land area (>1,000 hectares). The main objective of the prescribed stand-replacement fire is to create a burned area so large that wind-dispersed seeds only land on the perimeter of the burn. This intense fire can be small (300 to 1,000 hectares) if the fire burns from the bottom to the ridgetop on landscapes where wind will not disperse subalpine fir seed into the burn. An operational prescribed burn of 200 acres is planned for the summer of 1996 on the Bitterroot National Forest and a few such burns are planned for 1997 on the Kootenai National Forest.'