Dead Trees Burning (or Burnt)

A guest post by Michael Dixon

These two photos were taken in the spring of 2008 from approximately the same spot, one looking up slope and one down slope. This area is on the Payette NF in the Flat Creek drainage of the Secesh River about 30 miles northeast of McCall, Idaho. This was an un-managed (no stumps) mature lodgepole pine stand. The area that is burnt down to bare soil was burned in the Burgdorf Junction Fire in 2000. That fire just killed the lodgepole but did consume the wood. The area re-burned in 2007. The down slope photo shows an adjacent lodgepole pine stand that was not burnt in 2000, but was burned in 2007. This gives an idea of what the stand that burned twice looked like after the 2000 fire.

This is likely an extreme example but it can and does happen. Any lodgepole pine seedlings that came in after the 2000 fire were consumed and no seed source left, so it will take many years before it becomes reforested. There was about 350 acres of the hotly burned area. I would think that a fire killed lodgepole pine stand would be less prone to burning that a beetle killed stand as fire would consume the duff and fine fuels that would remain in a beetle killed stand. Re-burns are often are hotter than the initial fire which killed the trees, since a lot of the wood is on the ground and much more bio mass is consumed. The burning conditions in 2007 were extreme, so I would not expect this to happen every time a dead lodgepole stand burns. Many areas will not re-burn if the fuel loading is lighter. I have seen where a fire stopped where it came into a fire killed lodgepole stand with a lot of waist high seedlings. Only some of the down wood was consumed, but the fuel loading of the standing and down dead trees was much lower.

In the on going debate over what to do with the bug killed lodgepole pine forests, I hope we get past the rhetoric and advocacy and start looking at actual on the ground conditions, such as terrain, fuel loading, fire history, access, and resource values. Treatments or non-treatments are going to be different in different areas. Letting nature take its course is appropriate in some areas, salvage logging and fuels treatment s are appropriate in some areas, it all depends on where it is and what it is, there is no one right answer.

4 thoughts on “Dead Trees Burning (or Burnt)”

  1. Michael, I’ve seen lodgepole stands near Hell’s Canyon where it appears they burned- then the trees jackstrawed and in about 10-15 years burned again- by that time burning many seedlings that had grown up through the jackstrawed trees. This made it tough for lodgepole to easily regenerate as the parent trees were killed in the first fire but it looked like the cones from the dead trees yielded seed which became the seedlings.

    Not to say the FS could have done or should have done anything. Just observations.

  2. Few if any cones or seeds survived the re-burn in this area in the photo. I’m not sure why, but some of our lodgepole pine stands have cones that open with fire and others do not. I’ve seen areas which have seedlings come back in thick as doghair and in other areas have almost no seedlings. I suppose birds and squirrels will have to spread the seeds into some of these areas.

    The stand replacing fires in the Ponderosa pine/douglas fir type where no green trees are left bother me more as there is no seed source in what should have been a low or mixed severity fire.
    Stands that would of had fire every 15 to 30 years, have gone 80 years or more without fire.

  3. Lodgepole is a very resilient species. There are trees with serotinous and not serotinous (and varying degrees of serotiny) scattered around to take advantage of whatever situation presents itself. Lodgepole will be thriving when Homo sapiens is a distant memory IMHO.

  4. American Indians didn’t like lodgepole forests, due to their affinity for burning catastrophically. Why should we embrace those pure lodgepole forests, replacing P. pine forests, which harbor endangered species. Certainly, if drought and warming are to be the rule of the land, I would think that lodgepole forests would be pushed back up the mountain. We should be enhancing these drought-tolerant and beetle-resistant, long-lived pine forests.


Leave a Comment

Discover more from The Smokey Wire : National Forest News and Views

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading