The Lick Creek Ecosystem Management/Research Demonstration Area is on the Darby Ranger District of the Bitterroot National Forest in western Montana.
Although the area has a long history (since 1906) of management and research activities, it was not officially established until February 1991 when the Intermountain Research Station and the Bitterroot National Forest entered into a formal agreement to cooperate on innovative methods to manage vegetation for varied resource outputs.
Lick Creek is a small watershed of about 1,420 ha (3,500 acres). It is between two major west-to-east drainages of the Bitterroot Mountains-Lost Horse Creek to the north and Rock Creek to the south-and is bordered by the Selway/Bitterroot Wilderness Area on the west.
Elevations range from about 1,160 to 2,380 m (3,800 to 7,800 ft) mean sea level. Slopes range from 5 percent at the lower reaches to over 70 percent in the upper portions.
The first timber sale in Lick Creek occurred in 1906. At that time old growth ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) was the dominant species over much of the area; Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziessii) typically represented less than 10 percent of the stand by volume.
Photographs of stand conditions were taken in 1909. Permanent photo points were established in 1938 and included the locations of the 1909 photos. Photo records of conifer succession were made in 1909, 1925, 1927, 1937, 1949, 1958, 1969, 1979, and 1992.
The photos and publications illustrating this succession are located at the Intermountain Research Station, Missoula, Montana. Permanent plots to assess effects of residual basal area on stand growth following harvest were installed in the 1940's and monitored periodically. These plots have been maintained and are easily found.
In 1991 an interdisciplinary study was installed to determine the influence of prescribed fire on understory development. The three types of harvest used were retention shelterwood, selection, and thinning. Two burn types invoked were dry and wet.
The concept is to bring large diameter ponderosa pine back as a primary stand component, similar to the pre-1900 conditions, and maintain that status with periodic prescribed underburning. Treatment effects on wildlife forage, birds, wildlife cover, tree growth, nutrient flux, and other response variables will be assessed through time.
Permanent data plots and photo points have been established.
Summers are generally dry/warm; winters are dry/cold. Annual precipitation at the lower elevations is about 500 mm (20 inches) and increases to about 900 mm (35 inches) at the higher elevations. The high crest of the Bitterroot Range to the west causes a dramatic rain shadow effect on Lick Creek.
Snow typically accumulates to less than 0.3 m (1 ft) at the lower areas but reaches 1.0 to 1.2 m (3 to 4 ft) at about 2,100 m (7,000 ft).
Soils and Geology
Bedrock is intrusive granite, part of the Idaho Batholith. The area was heavily glaciated; Lick Creek is bordered north and south by two large lateral moraines. Soils generally are shallow granitic with a poorly developed organic horizon. They are gravelly and cobbley with sandy loam textures and are intermittently shallow and deep.
In the lower reaches of the Lick Creek drainage, soils tend to be clayey textured. Soils formed in glacial tills are sandy, with gravels, cobbles, and stones making up 50 percent or more of their mantle. Large surface boulders are plentiful in most areas, reminiscent of glaciation.
Soils are nutrient-poor and silica-rich and generally sensitive to surface disruption. The clayey soils along the stream bottom are sensitive to compaction.
Forest climax series include Douglas-fir on the dry aspects and grand fir (Abies grandis) on the moist aspects of the lower elevations, and subalpine fir (Abies lasiocarpa) at the higher elevations. Ponderosa pine is seral on the Douglas-fir series and is present in varying amounts depending on the incidence of past site disturbance.
Ponderosa pine, lodgepole pine (Pinus contorta), and Douglas-fir are serai on the grand fir and subalpine fir series. Willow (Salix sp.), serviceberry (Amelanchier alnifolia), bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata), and huckleberry (Vaccinium sp.) are common shrubs.
In the absence of disturbance or site preparation over the last 100 years, Douglas-fir has increased to abnormally high numbers on the Douglas-fir series, as have grand fir and subalpine fir on those climax series, generally at the expense of the seral conifers and shrub species. Prior to 1900, fire-free intervals at the lower elevations were only about 7 to 15 years.
Since 1900 no significant fire has occurred in the Lick Creek drainage. At the higher elevations, fire-free intervals were 30 to 50 years and were a combination of stand-replacement and underburn fires.
Data from permanent plots have been taken periodically since the 1940's and are available on electronic media. A permanent station to record temperature and rainfall was installed in 1993. A photographic record of succession is available, dating to 1909. New permanent plots will record stand development following harvests and underburning.
Examples of Research
- Effect of residual basal area on stand development
- Effect of residual stand structure on composition and structure of subsequent stand
- Effects of underburning on understory development
- Effects of underburning on nutrient flux
- Conifer regeneration following shelterwood and selection harvest
- Effects of harvest and underburning on bird activity
- Public perceptions of ecosystem management
- Effects of underburning on planted western larch and ponderosa pine
Lick Creek has a small cabin that can accommodate small groups for indoor discussion. There are no overnight facilities, except for a National Forest campground at Lake Como, adjacent to Lick Creek. Motels are available in Darby and Hamilton, about 16 and 32 km (10 and 20 miles) distance, respectively.
The Lick Creek Ecosystem Management/Research Demonstration Area is about 16 km (10 miles) northwest of Darby, Montana (lat. 46°5' N., long. 114°15' W.). Main access is by paved road from Highway 93 about 6 km (4 miles) north of Darby, then by improved gravel road for about 3 km (2 miles).
Carlson, Clinton E.; Floch, Rich; Fiedler, Carl. 1994. Research and demonstration of ecosystem management principles in ponderosa pine/Douglas-fir forests: Lick Creek, Bitterroot National Forest. In: Foley, Louise, compiler. Gen. Tech. Rep. SE-88. Proceedings-silviculture: from the cradle of forestry to ecosystem management.
National Silviculture Workshop, Hendersonville, NC; November 1-4, 1993. Ashville, NC: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Southeastern Forest Experiment Station: 201-206.
Gruell, George E.; Schmidt, Wyman C.; Arno, Stephen F.; Reich, William. 1982. Seventy years of vegetative change in a managed ponderosa pine forest in western Montana- implications for resource management. Gen. Tech. Rep. INT-130. Ogden, UT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station. 42 p.
Click on each thumbnail photograph for an enlarged version.
Surface fires, absent for nearly 100 years, have been reintroduced at Lick Creek to reduce stocking of intermediate and small Douglas-fir. Historic fire-free intervals were about 10 years. Removal of fire allowed firs to increase exponentially.
Features at Lick Creek include culture and retention of large diameter ponderosa pine through selection and irregular shelterwood silvicultural systems.
Lick Creek drainage, with the spectacular Bitterroot range in the background.