Way Back Whitebark – 1994
Prescribed Fire and Silvicultural Treatments in Declining Whitebark Pine Stands In and Around Snow Bowl Ski Area, Lolo National Forest
By Vic Dupuis, Lolo National Forest
This article appeared in a March 1994 issue of Nutcracker Notes.
Whitebark pine, blister rust, fire exclusion, and loss of biological diversity are ecosystem management issues raised in two concurrent analyses taking place on the same parcel of ground on the Lolo National Forest. Analysis of the proposed Northside Timber Sale and analysis of a proposed expansion of the Snow Bowl ski area encompass a complex of stands in the head of Lavalle Creek where whitebark pine has been the predominant forest type. The ecological issues have evolved around the potential loss in biological diversity that would result should a combination of blister rust mortality and fire exclusion eliminate whitebark pine from this portion of the ecosystem. The significant management issue involves how to integrate the goals of a ski area with our ecological concern for the sustainability of whitebark pine in this system.
The project involves the Missoula Ranger District, the Snow Bowl Ski Area, and the Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory. Management actions being analyzed involve incorporating various silvicultural treatments into the ski area expansion plans and establishing a series of study plots to evaluate the effectiveness of these treatments over time. The Missoula Ranger District has developed an alternative to the Snow Bowl expansion proposal that recognizes the importance of the whitebark pine type and furthers the goals of the Snow Bowl Ski Area. The proposal being analyzed would allow permanent ski run development in the whitebark pine type while improving conditions for growth and development of whitebark pine in the leave stands between the runs. The ski area would realize added benefit because the more open stand conditions created to benefit whitebark pine represent increased opportunities for the increasing popular activity of skiing in the trees! The Intermountain Fire Sciences Laboratory would assist the Missoula Ranger District in development of specific silvicultural prescriptions that would be applied and install long term monitoring plots to evaluate the overall effectiveness of the treatments. While we are fairly certain that a ski area and whitebark pine can coexist in the same area in the short run, monitoring of the compatibility of downhill skiing and development of whitebark pine stands is needed to determine the longer term compatibility of these diverse and potentially conflicting uses of National Forest. Analysis is proceeding and a decision is expected sometime this fall/winter.
This article appeared in a March 1994 issue of Nutcracker Notes. It is interesting that this project got the go-ahead in 1994 and the mechanical treatments were implemented in 2007, but the prescribed burning treatments have yet to be implemented as of 2019. A Univ Montana graduate student is currently interested in analyzing the collected data. And, as most of you know, Vic passed away in the early 2000’s. He was a real champion for whitebark pine.