Pine Regeneration: Bridge Fire, Bryce Canyon National Park

The 2009 Bridge Fire was started by lightning, and burned in both the Dixie National Forest and Bryce Canyon National Park. Since the fire didn’t closely approach structures, the fire was allowed to burn to the road, and in some places, to the rim.

Mortality was pretty severe but, there were still some green trees scattered about. It is hard to say if there has been a good cone year, since the fire. I didn’t see a single live new tree in this particular area.

I did see this dwarf Oregon grape but, it really wasn’t a surprise, since I had seen them growing among the hoodoos.

I also saw some manzanita and ceanothus becoming re-established, along with other desert brush species.

As the years go on, the odds for having a pine forest soon are worsening. At 9000 feet in elevation, this is a pretty harsh environment for any tree. I posted most of these pictures in high resolution, so you can see the vegetation easily, if you click on them. You cannot judge pine regeneration after only a few years but, in this case, pine regeneration looks very poor.

To see the pictures from my Bryce Canyon and Zion National Park adventures, go see my Facebook page, please. These include the Peekaboo trail in Bryce Canyon, and “The Narrows” in Zion National Park.

7 thoughts on “Pine Regeneration: Bridge Fire, Bryce Canyon National Park”

  1. Thanks for this. Do we have data on longer term pine regen after other fires such as Warm Fire in Grand Canyon, Rodeo Chiniski or others?

    • I do know that there was increased bark beetle mortality in the post-fire survivors on many of my fire salvage projects, in California, Idaho, Montana and Oregon. Green tree salvage guidelines must be collaborated, so that some of those perfectly-suited “brood trees” can be harvested, instead of supplying several generations of bark beetles, before finally dying. Indeed, many times these fire-damaged trees are “brain dead”, with their cambiums damaged beyond repair. Such trees can survive for weeks or months, making perfect bark beetle habitat.

  2. Interesting pictures. A few minutes on google found this:

    “Due to unexpected wind events, the [Bridge] fire has experienced considerable growth in the past two days. However, the fire is continuing to meet resource management objectives in the Park and on the National Forest, even though the missions of these two agencies are different. Once the burn ceases to meet management objectives, additional actions will be taken when and where needed.” (Source:

    Another article claimed that the wind event had winds over 30 mph. That’s some pretty strong winds, which pushed the fire. Also, the last sentence from the USFS press release seems to indicate that the burn did meet management objectives.

    So, again, some of my questions (based on a few years postings here where some people seem to most fires are “bad”) are: Was this Bridge fire a “bad” fire? Was it “un-natural?” Do the pictures posted here show a “destroyed” ecosystem? Or one that was recently impacted by natural disturbance?

  3. Matthew… a couple of thoughts.
    First, there may be a lag time between “taking action when the burn ceases to meet management objectives” and that action having the desired effect. It’s an art or practice, rather than a science. It’s not like you shut off a gas valve. So the fire could burn out of prescription while you are trying to keep it from burning outside prescription, if that makes sense.

    I think that probably “good” things and “bad” things happened, depending on who you ask (pine trees, vs. oregon grape, snakes or elk, bird that nest in trees, fish). That is precisely why “natural” has such low utility in this kind of discussion.

    a) Fire is unnatural because forests are unnatural because of fire suppression and grazing (or who knows?)

    b) Fire is unnatural because climate change has changed conditions.

    c) Fire is “natural” because we think that (generally??) it had some of the same effects as fires that vegetation ecologists argue about happening 150 years ago, with or without Native American action.

    It seems like a convoluted jungle of ideas to hack through to prove something is actually “natural.” I personally believe that wise policies are not based on inchoate ideas. But maybe that’s just me ;).
    So here is what I think: I would let the fire burn if there are no serious impacts to human values predicted (including endangered species, human health and safety, etc.). Afterwards I would try to mitigate negative effects based on human predilections.

    I will go “out on a limb” and say “I like trees where they are shown capable of growing”. I like carbon sequestration. I like shade. I just like trees. So if it were me, I would give it 10 years and if I saw no trees or seed source, and I could afford it, I would plant more trees.

    • Additionally, to be fair, the unburned stands seemed a bit on the decadent side, with some ratty old spruce between the deceptively-old pines. I’m sure they wanted a good underburn but, doesn’t it always seem like “unexpected weather conditions” are blamed for such results? Surely, the previous stand was affected by previous fire suppression. That high ridge through Bryce Canyon NP would be difficult to manage for desirable outcomes. Their stands where prescribed fire was successful looked a bit healthier. I expect that future burns would thin the stands even further. However, even in those treated stands, there appeared to be little pine regeneration. I wonder if, when a good cone year is first detected, that limited prescribed fire could supply a better seed bed. It would be risky, burning in the late spring/early summer. Certainly, regeneration cannot be judged until a good cone year can occur in the residual living stand.

  4. I do not find anything on the web about mortality in NP burn area but the piece below is from the DIxie NF post fire EA

    Bridge Fire Salvage and Reforestation

    Regrettably, it does not have maps showing burn severity/mortality, nor could I find the BAER report that has those maps,

    From this EA it seems that there are large pockets of high mortality making up about 1/4 of entire FS burn but i am not sure what percent of FS forested area this is.

    On the face of it, there were plenty of green trees in the burn area to provide seed with some larger burn pockets less likely to get seed.

    It is important to look at the larger landscape, even areas with severe mortality will have green trees on the edge. How is pine regen looking across the entire burn area?

    BTW, I do not think that running skidders across the burn area is a good way to ensure natural regen.

    I do not know if this 473 acre salvage plan went forward. It also called for felling of some dead trees on 770 acres for soil protection which is a surprise, but perhaps not that many in the end.

    The Bridge Fire Salvage and Reforestation Project encompass 3,732 acres of the
    Paunsaugunt Plateau. The project area is composed of 1,724 acres of ponderosa pine
    forest, 1,479 acres of mixed conifer forest and 529 acres of meadows and water. The
    mixed conifer forest cover type consists of a mix of ponderosa pine, Douglas-fir, white
    fir, aspen and limber pine.

    The Bridge fire burned 2,817 acres on national forest land. Burned area emergency
    response (BAER) assessments conducted by forest staff after the fire determined that
    approximately 728 acres burned at a high intensity resulting in 50% to 100% mortality of
    the over-story (See figure 3). A moderate intensity burn occurred on an estimated 665
    acres resulting in over-story mortality in the range of 10%-50%. The remainder of the fire
    area was a light intensity burn affecting mostly ground fuels and understory.
    Forest silviculturists have determined that because of a lack of seed source most of the
    high intensity burned sites and some of the moderate burned sites will not naturally
    revegetate to the 1986 Dixie National Forest Land and Resource Management Plan’s tree
    stocking requirements and will not meet the National Forest Management Act of 1976’s
    reforestation mandates

    • Certainly, no mention is made of the post-fire survivors that died from bark beetles. In my pictures, there may, or may not be snags that were killed by bark beetles. Fire-weakened trees are perfect habitat for bark beetles. Are the results, shown in the pictures, something we want, in both National Parks and National Forests? Certainly, in the National Park, they are very limited as to what can be accomplished, and how they go about doing it. Certainly, there is still plenty of this previous stand, which needs attention, or it will suffer the same fate as this new now-pineless stand of brush. The Park Service Fire folks are notorious for claiming tree mortality as a benefit to wildfire management or prescribed fire. Some of it is policy and some of it is culture.


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