A JFSP Fire Science Exchange Network
Bringing People Together & Sharing Knowledge in the Northern Rockies

Yellowstone fires: a decade later

Author(s): Y. Baskin
Year Published: 1999

Atop a ridge in Yellowstone National Park in 1984, a freak summer wind—perhaps a tornado or a downburst from a thunderstorm—leveled an ancient lodge-pole pine forest, piling up a head-high maze of logs. In the notorious summer of 1988, when wildfires burned one-third of the park, a fire front swept across the same ridge, incinerating everything under four inches in diameter and charring the rest. The result was a scene so desolate that a network television crew chose it as the backdrop to declare Yellowstone's “legacy in ashes.”

A few years later, the park service built a wooden boardwalk across the blackened ground at that site atop the Solfatara Plateau above the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River. At the end of the walk, an interpretive sign tells of the blowdown and the subsequent wildfires and proclaims: “After two consecutive deforestations, this site can still reseed with grasses and shrubs, but it may remain a meadow for decades.”

“The soil was not sterilized by this hottest of fires, and it hasn't become a meadow,” Despain told a group of journalists and researchers who visited the site last May. “It's just a temporarily less dense lodge-pole pine forest.”

In fact, Yellowstone's forests are regenerating even more rapidly than Despain and other fire ecologists had expected. And this rapid rebound from the ashes exemplifies the recovery that biologists are seeing throughout the park as they take advantage of a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity— no comparable wildfires have swept the region since the early 1700s—to study the impact of this immense force of nature on a near-pristine Western landscape. (For early reviews of the ecological consequences of the fire, see BioScience 39:678–722.) As they began their tenth summer of post-fire field work, many of these researchers gathered to review their findings at a symposium at Montana State University in Bozeman commemorating the 125th anniversary of Yellowstone National Park.

Citation: Baskin Yvonne. 1999. Yellowstone fires: a decade later. BioScience, v. 49, no. 2, p. 93-97. https://doi.org/10.2307/1313532
Topic(s): Fire Ecology, Ecosystem Changes, Composition, Function, Structure, Successional Changes, Early Successional, Fire Effects, Ecological - Second Order, Vegetation
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 18476
FRAMES RCS number: 37160
TTRS (Tall Timbers Research Station) Number: 11597
Record updated: Nov 20, 2018