35203 – Fire History of Whitebark Pine Forests Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades National Parks

Investigator’s Annual Reports (IAR’s) for Crater Lake National Park

Fire History of Whitebark Pine Forests Crater Lake, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades National Parks


Report Number: 35203

Permit Number: CRLA-2003-SCI-0001

Principal Investigator: Michael Murray, Crater Lake, OR

Date Received: Mar 02, 2006

Reporting Year: 2005

Park-assigned Study Id. #: CRLA-03014

Permit Expiration Date: May 20, 2005

Permit Start Date: May 20, 2003

Study Starting Date: May 20, 2003

Study Ending Date: May 20, 2005

Study Status: Completed

Activity Type: Research

Subject/Discipline: Fire (Behavior, Ecology, Effects)

Objectives: The Cascade Range features prominent timberline forests which are valued by tourists, recreationists, and wildlife. These ecosystems are characterized by whitebark pine (Pinus albicaulis). This tree is considered a keystone species in several forest communities because of its influence on wildlife, flora, and ecological processes (Tomback and others 2001). Whitebark pine is also known to be fire dependent based on studies in other regions where it is declining largely due to decades of suppression and an introduced disease ? blister rust. However, knowledge of fire regimes in the markedly different Cascadian whitebark pine forests is absent. No published fire studies of these forests exist. This proposal pertains to two objectives:

  1. Gain an understanding of fire regimes associated with whitebark pine forests in the Cascade Range.
  2. Describe historic and current stand conditions and estimate potential ecological effects of fire exclusion policies.

Understanding of fire regimes and current conditions is the first step towards re-introducing fire. Currently, managers cannot confidently determine if management-ignited fire is warranted because knowledge of forest conditions and historical fire regimes is lacking. Re-introducing fire may risk accelerating the decline of whitebark pine in the region. It is imperative that managers possess knowledge of historic and predicted fire characteristics for these forests in order to prescribe fire. It is the goal of this project to take a comprehensive step in filling this information gap for the Cascades, thus providing an important and essential baseline resource for fire planning in the region.

A significant information gap in fire management planning in the Cascades will be addressed by this project. Our objectives will answer many of the immediate questions that managers have and provide a baseline of information for long-term fire management planning. Our findings will enable science-based re-introduction of fire into these important forests. Specifically, this project will:

  • Prioritize the need for re-introducing fire according to fuel type.
  • Define appropriate severity and frequency goals for different fuel types.
  • Identify fuel types where mechanical pre-treatments may be warranted to protect mature whitebark pine from lethal fire.
  • Discern whether management-ignited or lightning fires are more appropriate for different fuel types.
  • Provide managers with fuels data to predict spread rate and intensity ? especially important near visitor facilities.

Findings and Status: By applying standard field techniques (scar and core sampling) we compiled a dataset that describes fire’s role in these timberline forests. We report on 55 fire history sites located in the Cascade Range. Incidence of fire was documented throughout the whitebark pine ecosystem in the Cascades, indicating that fire is a significant disturbance agent. Whitebark pine ecosystems appear to burn in a broad spectrum of severity and frequency. Fire return intervals ranged from 9 to 314 years. This broad range indicates that fire regimes in whitebark pine forests are site-specific more than species-specific. From stand reconstruction techniques, we estimate that since the 1920s, volume for all tree species including whitebark pine began to increase dramatically. Late-seral species have increased at greater rates, indicating fire exclusion as a causal agent facilitating and possibly driving changing forest conditions.

For this study, were one or more specimens collected and removed from the park but not destroyed during analyses? Yes

Funding provided this reporting year by NPS: 3000

Funding provided this reporting year by other sources: 45260

Full name of college or university: n/a

Annual funding provided by NPS to university or college this reporting year: 0


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