With nearly 15 million acres of commercial forests in the Rocky Mountains and more than 4.8 million in Montana alone, lodgepole pine is the fourth most extensive timber type west of the Mississippi River and the third most extensive in the Rocky Mountains. Seral, fire dependent lodgepole pine communities provide wood products, wildlife habitat, livestock forage, water, recreational opportunities, and expansive viewsheds.
Contrary to the leading paradigm that lodgepole pine forests result almost exclusively from stand-replacement wildfire, there is strong evidence that many lodgepole pine forests in the interior West were historically in a multi-aged stand structure, implying that natural disturbances do not necessarily result in total consumption and subsequent replacement of entire stands.
Currently, however, many lodgepole pine stands are in late-successional stages containing high fuel loading; these stands are at high-risk to catastrophic-scale fires such as occurred in 2000. For example, much of the area burned along the east side of the Bitterroot Valley in western Montana was in these late-seral, lodgepole pine forests.
There is critical need for developing and assessing techniques that restore stand structure and species composition to mimic or facilitate natural processes. Restoration methods are needed for these late-seral, lodgepole pine forests as well as for areas burned in the wildfires of 2000. These techniques will include, but are not limited to, various combinations of prescribed burning and silvicultural treatments.
Managers use a variety of silvicultural treatments, from clearcutting to partial cutting, in lodgepole pine stands, albeit with little scientifically-based knowledge of treatment impacts on fuels reduction, wildlife, watershed and vegetation responses, including invasion of noxious weeds.
The recently-implemented Tenderfoot Research Project on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest provides a unique opportunity to evaluate innovative silvicultural treatments that address current National Forest system management goals of sustaining healthy forest ecosystems through the use of prescribed fire.
- What are the ecological and biological effects of prescribed fire in lodgepole pine stands, under two levels of shelterwood treatments and in non-treated stands on fuel loading, vegetation development (regeneration, understory development, noxious weeds, and tree growth), and hydrologic responses?
- What are the effects of prescribed fire on damaged reserve trees and what is the longevity of snags?
- Are current hydrologic, vegetative, and fuel-dynamic models adequate for lodgepole pine types?
Research and development approach
The 9,000 acre Tenderfoot Experimental Forest is an intensively monitored site, with information collected on fire history, streamflow, stream channel characteristics, water quality, climate (including snowpack), fish populations, geology and soils, fuels, vegetation, and biophysical attributes, and wildlife. Much of this information resides in GIS data coverages.
The Tenderfoot Research Project consists of an integrated research program from a scientifically-based, replicated design focused on evaluating 2-aged silvicultural systems in lodgepole pine resource. It was planned in conjunction with National Forest System land managers.
- evaluate and quantify the ecological and biological effects of alternative silvicultural treatments in lodgepole pine forests;
- develop linkages between vegetation management activities and hydrology; manage and integrate knowledge gained from the studies at TCEF to improve ecosystem-based management in lodgepole pine forests;
- develop demonstration sites at TCEF for internal and external (public) education;
- develop and demonstrate the application of new tools and technology for implementation of ecosystem-based management; create opportunities to test and verify hydrologic and vegetation models;
- contribute to the scientific knowledge through publications of results in appropriate outlets;
- synthesize knowledge gained from research at TCEF for applications to lodgepole pine forests in the Northern Rockies through a variety of technology transfer products.
The project was conceptualized in 1988, and site installation began autumn, 1992. The first draft of the Tenderfoot Research Project proposal was developed in 1996. The NEPA and EA were completed and the project approved in 1999; roads installed and first vegetation treatments applied 1999. Vegetation treatments continued in 2000; the silvicultural system is a shelterwood with reserves.
Two levels of retention overwood will be tested - even distribution of single or small groups (E) and uneven distribution - large residual groups (G). Within the treatment sub-watersheds each treatment/site preparation combination will be replicated on west and east facing aspects. Two site preparation methods- burn and no-burn will be tested within the even and group treatments.
A mixed severity or stand replacement burn treatment will be installed in each treatment sub- watershed. Only one treatment area will be installed in each treatment sub- watershed because of burning constraints and limited number of stand conditions that would accommodate this treatment. The prescribed fire treatments are planned for 2001.
Expected outcomes or products
- First year: Implement prescribed fires; develop demonstration sites at TCEF for internal and external (public) education; publications describing pre-treatment conditions and climate and hydrologic characteristics.
- Second year: Monitor postfire conditions; write Publications and develop professional and lay presentations describing mixed-severity fires in thinned lodgepole pine forests.
- Three to Five years out: continue monitoring and evaluating research treatment effects; write Publications and develop professional and lay presentations describing watershed-level effects of logging and prescribed burning on water quantity and quality; on vegetation response.
The primary objective of this research is to provide forest mangers with new techniques and options for managing lodgepole pine communities in the Northern Rockies. This research will provide valuable research information on fuels management, vegetation response and development following harvesting and prescribed burning, water production, water quality, and a wide range of associated ecological processes.
Accomplishments to date
- 9/14/01: Completed installation of SNOTEL weather stations at Onion Park Research Natural Area and at Stringer Creek, both located on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest. These SNOTEL data sites will be used by RMRS researchers and by the Lewis and Clark National Forest for fire weather monitoring.
- 9/30/01: Completed inventory of native and exotic weeds on permanent plots and road corridors prior to burning slash piles from the Tenderfoot Research Project.
- 01/15/02: Climate data compiled and estimates of missing data input into climate data sets for Onion Park and Stringer Creek weather stations located on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest. The work was accomplished for developing links to the 'Web Harvester' for the FS Global Change Program developing hydrologic and associated meteorological data.
- 01/15/02: Progress documented and reported on the JVA with Dr. Katherine Hansen from Montana State University to evaluate climate data and post-treatment water yield and snowpack differences between closed and open stands of lodgepole pine prior to prescribed fire.
- 12/15/01: Progress documented and reported on the JVA with Dr. Anna Sala from the University of Montana to evaluate physiological resilience of whitebark pine natural regeneration and planted trees following FY2000 fires on the Bitterroot National Forest.
- 2/01/02: Collected baseline data, such as climate, streamflow, stream sediment, and water nutrients on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest for evaluating post-harvest treatment effects.
Accomplishments since January 2002 progress report or previously not reported:
- 06/01/01: Initial gas exchange measurements to evaluate treatment effects on growth and water use were collected monthly from three study sites.
- 06/01/01: Preliminary estimates of the photosynthetic strategies of several species were developed to evaluate treatment effects on growth and water use.
- 06/01/01: Gas exchange techniques were compared to increase the efficiency of data collection, and preliminary regression equations developed to evaluate treatment effects on growth and water use.
- 06/01/01: Initial techniques for developing a biophysical growth potential and index of metabolic functioning to evaluate treatment effects on growth and water use were explored, and a preliminary procedure outlined.
- 06/25/02: Installed Evaporation tanks and soil moisture/pH/salinity/specific conductivity sensors for tree physiology and lodgepole pine ecology research on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest.
- 09/29/02: Initiated contracts to lease and install modular building at Forestry Sciences Laboratory complex to house National Fire Plan researchers. Building occupied 4/02.
- 11/01/01: Slash piles were burned on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest in preparation for prescribed burns within harvest treatment units, scheduled for FY 2002.
- 1/08/02 Committed funds to transfer permanent scientist Dr. Ward McCaughey, Research Forester, from Bozeman, MT to Missoula, MT to lead aspects of the National Fire Plan research. Transfer complete on June 17, 2002.
- 05/01/02: Developed new 10-year-average precipitation zone map for the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest for evaluation of climate on post-harvest treatment effects.
- 06/29/02: Collected post-winter windthrow measurements on the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest prior to planned prescribed fire treatments for evaluating post-harvest treatment effects.
- 06/29/02: Collected baseline climate, streamflow, stream sediment, and water nutrient data from the Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest for evaluating effects of prescribed fire treatments planned for FY 2002.