The Fire Regime of Lower Subalpine Forests

Lower subalpine forests, which make up 38% of the total forested acreage in our focal area, are predisposed to burn relatively infrequently and severely.

The cool, moist conditions characteristic of the lower subalpine zone rarely allow fires to spread beyond their points of ignition. Based on data from 34 fire history studies in this forest type within western Montana and northern Idaho, the average stand has a mean fire return interval of 117 years (Arno 1976, 1985, 1981a, 1981b; Arno and Davis 1980; Arno et al. 1992; Bakeman 1983; Barrett 1982, 1983, 1986a, 1986b, 1988, 1991, 1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997a, 1997b, 1998a, 1998b; Gabriel 1976; Losensky 1992, 1993a, 1993b, 1993c, 1993d, 1993e; Pierce 1995a, 1995b, 1995c; Sneck 1977; Zack and Morgan 1994).

Dense thickets of fire-sensitive trees often develop during the long fire-free periods. Periodic drought then primes the heavily stocked stands for severe, stand-replacing wildfires (Pfister et al. 1977, Arno 1980). Because much of the vegetation and debris in the lower subalpine zone is likely to burn only under extreme weather conditions, fire patterns within this forest type are largely "weather dominated" (sensu Agee 1997).

Fire patterns in some lodgepole pine-dominated stands appear to be exceptions to this rule. These stands are dry enough, on average, to support regular understory fires in addition to the periodic stand-replacing events typical of the lower subalpine forest type (Gabriel 1976, Pfister et al. 1977, Arno 1980, Fischer and Bradley 1987, Smith and Fischer 1997). Moreover, crown fires can be encouraged by mountain pine beetle outbreaks that avail extensive fuels in lodgepole-dominated stands (Arno 1980).


LITERATURE CITED:

Agee, J. K. 1997. The severe weather wildfire - too hot to handle? Northwest Science 71:153-156.

Arno, S. F. 1976. The historical role of fire in the Bitterroot National Forest. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Research Paper INT-187.

Arno, S. F. 1980. Forest fire history in the Northern Rockies. Journal of Forestry 78:460-465.

Arno, S. F. 1985. Fire history in the vicinity of Mary's Frog Pond, Lolo National Forest. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Arno, S. F. 1981a. Fire history in the vicinity of Sheep Mountain Bog, Lolo National Forest. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Arno, S. F. 1981b. Fire history on the Fontenelle Creek aspen study site. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Arno, S. F., and D. H. Davis 1980. Fire history of western redcedar/hemlock forests in northern Idaho. Pp. 21-26 in Proceedings of the fire history workshop. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report, RM-81

Arno, S. F., E. D. Reinhardt, and J. H. Scott. 1992. Forest Structure and landscape patterns in the subalpine lodgepole pine type: A procedure for quantifying past and present conditions. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, General Technical Report, INT-294.

Bakeman, M. E. 1983. The genesis of mollisols under Douglas-fir. Thesis. The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1982. Fire's influence on ecosystems of the Clearwater National Forest: Cook Mountain fire history inventory. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Clearwater National Forest, Orofino, Idaho, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1983. Fire history of Glacier National Park: North Fork Flathead River Drainage. Final Report Supplement 2220(?) for USDA Forest Service Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1986a. Fire history of Glacier National Park: Middle Fork Flathead River Drainage. Final Report Supplement 22034 for USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1986b. Fire history reconnaissance for Point Source Ignition Project, Powell Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Powell Ranger District, Lolo, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1991. Fire history and fire regime types in the Dromedary Analysis Area, Superior Ranger District, Lolo National Forest. Unpublished report on file at USDA Forest Service, Superior Ranger District, Superior, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1992. Fire history of a western larch lodgepole pine site on The Big Mountain, Flathead National Forest. Unpublished data on file at Systems for Environmental Management, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1993a. Fire history of Tenderfoot Creek Experimental Forest, Lewis and Clark National Forest. Final Report RJVA No. INT-92679 for USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Forestry Sciences Laboratory, Bozeman, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1993b. Fire history of southeastern Glacier National Park. Unpublished data on file at USDI National Park Service, Research Division, Glacier National Park, West Glacier, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1994. Fire regimes on the Clearwater and Nez Perce National Forests, North central Idaho. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Clearwater National Forest, Orofino, Idaho, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1995. Fire history assessment for the Lolo Trail, Powell Ranger District, Clearwater National Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Clearwater National Forest, Powell, Idaho, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1996. Fire regimes assessment for Upper Stryker Ridge Timber Sale, Stillwater State Forest, Montana. Unpublished report on file at DNRC, Stillwater State Forest, Olney, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1997a. Historical fire regimes on the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Montana. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Wise River Ranger District, Wise River, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1997b. Fire history of Glacier National Park: Hudson Bay drainage. Unpublished report on file at USDI Glacier National Park, Research Division, West Glacier, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1998a. Fire history and fire regimes: Flathead Lake Eastshore Analysis Area. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Flathead National Forest, Swan Lake Ranger Dist., Bigfork, Montana, USA.

Barrett, S. W. 1998b. Riparian fire history and fire regimes: Upper Swan Valley, Flathead National Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Flathead Nat. Forest, Swan Lake Ranger Dist., Bigfork, Montana, USA.

Fischer, W. C., and A. F. Bradley. 1987. Fire Ecology of western Montana forest habitat types. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, General Technical Report, INT-223. Fowler, P. M., and D. O. Asleson. 1984. The location of lightning-caused wildland fires, northern Idaho. Physical Geography 5:240-252.

Gabriel, H. W. 1976. Wilderness ecology: the Danaher Creek drainage, Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana. Dissertation, The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1992. Canyon Creek Fire Report, Scapegoat Wilderness. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Lolo National Forest, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1993a. Fire history for the Big Belt Mountains. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1993b. Fire history for the Birch Creek drainage, Beaverhead Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1993c. Fire history for the Crazy Mountains, Livingston District, Gallatin Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1993d. Fire history for the Squaw Creek drainage, Bozeman District, Gallatin Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Losensky, B. J. 1993e. Fire history for the Doolittle Creek drainage, Wisdom District, Beaverhead Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Pfister, R. D., B. L. Kovalchik, S. F. Arno, and R. C. Presby. 1977. Forest habitat types of Montana. USDA Forest Service, Intermountian Forest and Range Experiment Station. General Technical Report INT-34.

Pierce, J. R. 1995a. Fire history plot data from the Cutreef Willow Creeks area, Montana. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Pierce, J. R. 1995b. Fire history plot data from the Teton River area, Montana. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Pierce, J. R. 1995c. Fire history plot data from the Priest Lake area, Idaho. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Region 1, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Smith, J. K., and W. C. Fischer. 1997. Fire Ecology of the Forest Habitat Types of Northern Idaho. USDA Forest Service, Intermountain Research Station, General Technical Report, INT-GTR-363.

Sneck, K. M. 1977. The fire history of Coram Experimental Forest. Thesis. The University of Montana, Missoula, Montana, USA.

Zack, A. C., and P. Morgan. 1994. Fire history on the Idaho Panhandle National Forest. Unpublished data on file at USDA Forest Service, Idaho Panhandle National Forest, Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, USA.


Return to Fire History