Carlton Ridge Research Natural Area: Features, and Effects of 2017 Wildfire

The 900-acre Carlton Ridge RNA near Lolo Peak and its 500-acre proposed addition support the largest unbroken forest of alpine larch [Larix lyallii] in the U.S., located at about 8,000 feet elevation, and just below it an extensive area of whitebark pine [Pinus albicaulis] forest. Prior to the 2017 Lolo Peak fire, most of the whitebark pine was very old and dead or dying from blister rust and bark beetle attacks, and in the absence of fire since at least 1889 pine was being replaced by subalpine fir.  At around 6,200 feet the RNA also has a rock outcrop site where alpine larch and western larch [L. occidentalis] form natural hybrids. The 2017 wildfire burned through the RNA, largely as a lethal crown fire except at the highest elevations where alpine larch is dominant. On the ground assessment of the fire’s impact won’t happen until summer 2018, but the whitebark pine forest and below it the lodgepole pine forest and most of the larch hybrid site sustained stand-replacement fire. If whitebark pine regeneration becomes abundant, that forest zone can be renewed.  

The controversies that defined the 2017 fire season—and foreshadow the fires next time
- By Alex Sakariassen, Missoula Independent, Nov 9, 2017

 

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