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Lodgepole & the Yellowstone fires.

Lodgepole & the Yellowstone Fires

Dear Mr. Barbee:

Several months ago I had the pleasure of meeting you when you made a presentation here in Washington, DC, about the 1988 fires in Yellowstone Park. You piqued my interest sufficiently that I visited Yellowstone in mid-July of 1989 and saw the burn areas for myself.

In general, I found what I expected - an interesting story of fire's place in the environment, clearly in evidence. I did find one area of concern, though, about which I would appreciate your thoughts. At several places along the route, I parked and stepped out into some heavily burned areas. I was surprised by the absence of reproduction of the lodgepole pines. I am not a lodgepole pine silviculturist (having spent most of my 31-year Forest Service career in the East), but "the books" led me to expect a lot of lodgepole seedlings beginning to show up by this time in July.

I would be pleased to hear your staff's professional opinion about what is really happening with the lodgepole reproduction. If there are indeed areas where reproduction is lacking, how extensive are those areas? Will they revert to a prairie type of cover for a rotation or so? In short, what is the revegetation outlook for the areas burned over in 1988?

My sampling was certainly not very scientific, but it does raise a few questions. What will the Yellowstone of the future look like? I - and the readers of AMERICAN FORESTS magazine - would like to know what your regeneration surveys show is really happening in the heavily burned areas of a national treasure - Yellowstone Park.

HOWARD W. BURNETT Special Projects Forester American Forestry Association

Dear Mr. Burnett:

Your questions on the natural regeneration of lodgepole pine forests are well founded. Members of my research staff have observed burned areas with few to no seedlings, as well as other areas where seedling density is exceptionally high. Some of the differences can be attributed to variations in fire intensity; others seem related to the presence or absence of major alterations of the forest canopy prior to the 1988 fires.

We have noted, for instance, that regeneration is sparse where the 1988 fires burned in blowdown areas or in stands burned within the past 20 to 30 years. Observations on forest recovery rates in areas burned over the past two decades have revealed considerable variability. In the year following a burn, seedling densities can range from 600 to 60,000 or more per acre. At the lowest densities, one must search very carefully and persistently to find a seedling.

It has also been observed, in this most-recent burn as well as in previous ones, that altitude is a factor in timing of regeneration. Seedlings will be evident at lower altitudes by late June, while seed germination at higher altitudes may not take place until well into August.

Seedling counts and observations on recovery rates of forested areas burned in the past indicate that most of the areas burned in the 1988 fires should again support a coniferous forest cover. Studies of soil characteristics also indicate that forest and prairie boundaries have remained remarkably unchanged despite all the large and small fires that have occurred over the past hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

With such considerations in mind, we feel confident that over the next decade or so we will see the emergence of young pine stands in most areas where such stands existed prior to the 1988 fires. This phenomenon will in fact be something of great interest for people to follow in the years and decades to come.

ROBERT D. BARBEE Superintendent Yellowstone National Park


The U.S. Forest Service and National Park Service are working on an umbrella document titled "Vision for the Future," which will coordinate management of the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA).

A final version will be published this summer after public comment. Individual management plans for the National Parks and Forests in the GYA will then be amended to conform with the vision document.

Issues such as fire management, recreation, forest health, and wildlife management are expected to be included. But according to the project's leaders, Jack Troyer of the Forest Service and Sandra Hellickson Key of the National Park Service, the new document "may not contain anything on forest regeneration." Troyer explained to AMERICAN FORESTS that the only National Forest area that will not regenerate naturally is one 7,500-acre burn that was a plantation prior to the fire and so lacks seed sources. For further information, call 406/657-6361.

PHOTO : Yellowstone research biologist Don Despain checks a new lodgepole pine seedling that has sprouted since last year's devastating fires, which left many areas as burned over as the one in the view at top of page.
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Title Annotation:includes related information
Author:Barbee, Robert D.
Publication:American Forests
Article Type:letter to the editor
Date:Jan 1, 1990
Previous Article:Saving forests the natural way.
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