Grizzly Complex Fire

Submitted by Cheryl Tijerina on Thu, 2017-06-22 00:00

Today we visited one of the sites of the “Grizzly Complex Fire” on Grassy Mountain to look at where the fire happened in 2015 and the salvage and restoration work being done there. The fire broke out in August of 2015 and was started by a lightning strike. Most fires in Idaho are caused by lightning strikes.

The goal of the salvage and restoration project is to restore the native population of white pines. The fire has given the forest service the prime opportunity to clear out non-native trees affected by the fire, to replenish the ground cover and replant white pines. Not only is the white pine native to the area but it is also resistant to root rot.

The native white pines were logged for use railroad companies and the Ohio Match Company in the early decades of the last century.

In order for this project to be a success the Forest Service is coordinating with multiple agencies because getting buy-in is so important. Having input from all affected parties is the best way to ensure the most efficient use of resources.

The information we learned today can be easily connected to environmental science, but how can it be applied to some of the other disciplines? One thought we had was to have students write argumentative essays exploring opposing views on forest restoration. Should we allow nature to take its course to repair any damage without human interference,or is it our duty to repair any damage using any means possible? 





Bobbi Eby's picture

I wanted to address our question, “Should we allow nature to take its course to repair any damage without human interference, or is it our duty to repair any damage using any means possible?”  I took this question to my husband, who is a silviculturist. (Silviculturists are the people who manage the trees in our forests. They attempt to control forest regeneration, composition, growth, and quality. Specially trained in identifying disease and pests, they help keep the trees on our planet healthy and growing.) This is what his answer was: Yes, it is our duty to restore forested landscapes due to our forest policy, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and our National Forest Plan (all forested lands must be regenerated in 5 yrs post disturbance). Forest restoration is required in disturbance areas that are assessable, not only because of policy, but because of pressure from the public and environmental groups. (This is the political reasons.) In the last 100 years, fire suppression has created an imbalance that makes it difficult for the forests to regenerate in a natural fire regime. Present fire activity levels are much higher from fuel build up because of years of fire suppression. To create a balance in the ecosystem, the Forest Service and other agencies are working towards repairing forests to their natural state, even if it requires mechanical treatments and prescribed fire. These efforts have shown to be successful in the last decade. 

Brent Patch's picture

Oh, what a tangled web we weave! Fascinating how intricate the relationships are amongst all of the organisms living in the ecosystem (planet). Humans have such an ability to influence our environment in ways that no other organism can. Understanding these relationships and our ability to guide natural processes is ultimately important to the sustainability of the environment and ourselves. 

Cheryl Tijerina's picture

Wow! What fantastic, thoughtful info! 

I appreciate the info--it will be helpful to share it with my students. Thank you!
Randy Boyd's picture

Interesting comments on if we should intervene with forest fires and if we should intervene afterwards. I was around the Yellowstone Fire in 1988 and I was told that they weren't allowed to try and stop the fire unless it was a threat to structures. They also weren't allowed to intervene in anyway afterward because it's a National park and National parks are supposed to be left as natural as possible.

Eric Rude's picture

The Yellowstone fires of '88 were a great ecological "experiment." Yes, some areas looked very dismal afterward, and you can still see fire damage in some places, but the fires helped in so many ways. There were new groves of aspen sprouting (without a fire, aspens usually only spread through underground roots, resulting in a grove that is really one, large, spreading tree, with no genetic variation). There were new lodgepole pines, which only release their seeds after a fire. There were incredible growths of wildflowers, which led to increases of insects, which provided food for larger organisms. Nutrients that were locked up in old trees were released into the soil and waters, eventually leading to larger, healthier fish. After a bleak winter, populations of many mammals increased in the following years. Often, nature does better if left alone. Yes, there were lots of people complaining that things were growing back fast enough or that it looked "ugly," but it was better in the long run.


Katie Mosman's picture

I grew up on (and am still involved with) a family farm that raises native grass and forb seed for reclamation projects. Different seed blends are created to suit the local, native vegetation after forest fires or other disturbances, such as road construction. Some of our crops include Idaho fescue, Basin wild rye, yarrow, and Intermediate wheat grass. Without intervention, noxious and invasive species, like downy brome—also known as cheat grass—will be the first to establish and can completely take over an entire area. Giving the native vegetation a kick-start can help an environment fully recover. We have even done this on our own property in the canyon surrounding the family farm. Over-grazing from the previous generations’ cattle allowed yellow star thistle to take over. This was great for the bees—it makes the best honey you’ve ever tasted—but essentially made the canyon a monoculture of vegetation that you couldn’t walk through and animals wouldn’t eat. So we seeded Mountain brome, Intermediate wheat grass, and a few other varieties we had on hand. Within five years, almost all the yellow star thistle was gone and the habitat was restored! Erosion was mitigated because of increased ground cover, we saw way more wildlife, and there was greater diversity in vegetation. Without intervention, the entire canyon would still be unusable and covered in yellow star thistle and native vegetation would have never had a chance.


Without human intervention, ecosystems would be able to recover just fine. However, there’s already been human intervention when introduced the non-native species, whether accidentally or on purpose, or because we created conditions (like over-grazing) that allowed invasive species to flourish. So now it’s our responsibility to intervene and set things right for the health of the environment.