5 thoughts on “A Montana Hillside: Which Side of This Line Do You Prefer and Why?”

  1. Strange post Sharon, curious to your motives. Please provide a little more context.

    You are asking folks to comment on a photo or the “looks” of forest management. “Looks” can be deceiving and are an exceeding short sighted and selfish measure of long term forest “health”, if you will.

    However, since you asked…

    Fire ecology perspective – there is nothing to discuss. One photo of one hillside does nothing. LandSCAPES are the appropriate measure. Not stands or one hillside. This photos shows a mosaic that is desirable and perfectly natural in areas where fire is allowed to burn (I have several thousand pictures of the same condition in wilderness areas where fire has burned naturally).

    Fire behavoir perspective – In it’s current condition the stand on right the would probably function as a “heat sink” due to the abundance of small thriving green trees and the amount of moisture they are uptaking, slowing/stopping fire spread in all but the most extreme years. As you are well aware and as envionmental groups continuously (and correctly) cite, fire behavoir is a funcion of climate, not fuels. Fire burns hotter in drought years. Duh…

    The stand on the left would not support crown fire. Duh…

    The 100 hour ground fuels in the stand on the left would promote fire spread in extreme years, not so much in a “normal” year. No fine fuels to carry the fire.

    Fast forward ten years or so…stand on right is probably entering stem exclusion phase and not as susceptible to fire except in extreme years when it would carry a crown fire. Stand on left is not susceptible to fire as most of the fuels have decayed. Expected shrub resprouting functions as a heat sink simliar to above.

    Forestry perspective – looks like a fairly homogeneous stand of LPP with some PP and DF scattered about. The PP and DF are the desireable early seral spp. in this case. Lpp will always be a component of the stand. If the desire was to maintain early seral spp, this (stand on left) is good practice, since it will give the PP and DF an chance to regenerate. Since lpp is always going to be there, that spp. will provide an economic benefit in, oh say, 60-80 years, when it’s time to again enter the stand, thinning the lpp and leaving the early seral spp. that may have regenerated as well as any of the overstory. Contrast is the stand on the right …there is an inverse relationship between stocking and height growth for lpp….basically, the denser it is, the taller it grows. Height adds more to volume (and subsequent value) than diameter. Sorry for the basic forestry lesson here.

    If I were an industry forester (which I was) I would advocate for the stand on the right, entering it in 40-60 years and commercially thinning it, thereby offsetting the thinning costs, followed up by a regeneration harvest in 20-30 years of the entire stand.

    If I were a public land manager (which I am – sorry Bob,) I would advocate for the entire photo since the combination of both stands (putting on my final wildlife habitat “hat) would provide a diversity of quality habitats for say, oh, something like lynx. The stand on the left would provide a multi-storied stand of denning/foraging habitat, while the stand on the right would provide for plenty of bunny habitat (foraging for lynx).

    But a photo is deceiving if taken out of context. Management of a landscape, ecosystem, forest or stand should not be based on “looks”.

    Is this what you were hoping for Sharon?

    • My context was that someone sent me the photo ; I thought it would be interesting to get a read on what people thought about a specific comparison of different vegetation when a project is not proposed. Your answer is the kind of perspective I was looking for.

      I understand the landscape context is important, but it seems to me that understanding is needed at all relevant scales, including and perhaps especially, stands to make a complete picture.

      I was once on a research station review with a scientist/research administrator who maintained that “understanding systems” was the only important thing and that understanding species (fish, in this case) was passe (this was 20 years or so ago). I don’t know how you think you can understand systems without understanding their components. But perhaps that’s just me.

      • “I don’t know how you think you can understand systems without understanding their components”

        I agree 100% with that statement and it’s probably the reason for the current emphasis on “integration” between silviculture, wildlife, soils, hydrology, fuels and fisheries when designing and proposing a project. In the past the Agency was (is still) probably guilty of improperly and or narrowly defining (“framing”) the need for a project based on one or two of the above disciplines but I think we’re (slowly) learning that the objectives of each resource area are not mutually exclusive.

        “Responsible forest management” should be able to clearly document the benefits and tradeoffs to each of the resource areas (ecosystem components). “Wood is good” (logging) is perfectly legit to create/maintain (lets please not call it “restoration”) a certain condition as long as we’re judicious as to where and how we apply our treatments within the existing legal frameworks. This may mean deferring treatment in some areas to provide for ESA concerns or incorporating additional (tree) retention measures while still treating (logging) at the appropriate scale to provide for habitat, forest resilience, timber, jobs and all that other good stuff.
        Regardless, I need to get off my soapbox. You asked for comments based on a picture to “get a read on what people thought about a specific comparison of different vegetation when a project is not proposed”. Not sure what was proposed, not proposed, intended or why it matters based on this picture.

  2. No need to be sorry, JZ: apparently my instincts were correct. Mostly I agree with you. Not sure where this picture was taken, but rest assured the fuels on the left contain many fines for fire spread — mostly dead grasses and dropped needles that would help cause a hot fire to spread, killing the overstory, baking the soil, and looking for ladder fuels. The area on the right appears to be too young to support a crown fire, and too shady to worry about surface fuels at this juncture.

    Generalized management prescriptions led to both conditions, and I think each has weaknesses. Too much dry fuel on the left, and too many trees on the right. If we’re managing for wildfire, the area on the left will give us the best results in the near term; if we are managing for timber, then your description for long-term treatment has been shown to be a reliable approach. If we are managing for something else (recreational opportunities; wildlife populations, aesthetics, etc.), then something needs to be done to both sides.

    And, yes, while the photo doesn’t show a landscape-scale proportion of the forest, it does indicate what that condition might be; a very common pattern throughout all of the western US.


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