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After the Fires

After the Fires: The Ecology of Change in Yellowstone National Park

Edited by Linda L. Wallace
Copyright Date: 2004
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 400
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  • Book Info
    After the Fires
    Book Description:

    The ravaging fires in Yellowstone National Park in 1988 caused grave concern among scientists about the possible short- and longterm repercussions. This book provides the first comprehensive scientific summary of the actual response of the Yellowstone ecosystem to the fires.Written by experts in wildlife biology, ecosystem science, landscape ecology, and forest science, the book shows not only that many things changed after the fires (for ecological components of the system are interactive) but also that some things did not change. The largest effects of the fires were felt at the smallest scales, and the long-term devastation predicted did not come to pass. The resilience of this naturally functioning ecosystem to these huge fires has important lessons for heavily managed regions.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-12775-1
    Subjects: General Science

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Part I Historical and Geological Perspective

    • Chapter 1 The Fires of 1988: A Chronology and Invitation to Research
      (pp. 3-9)
      Linda L. Wallace, Francis J. Singer and Paul Schullery

      The goal of this volume is to take a comprehensive look at the largescale fires of that swept through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE), most notably in Yellowstone National Park (YNP). We will not examine the political ramifications of the fires, but rather will look at the fires as they affected the geology, ecology, and structure of this system. Research work is continuing as this volume is being written and printed. However, the work presented represents a little more than one decade of research by scientists from across the United States in a number of different disciplines. Although many of...

    • Chapter 2 Postglacial Fire, Vegetation, and Climate History of the Yellowstone-Lamar and Central Plateau Provinces, Yellowstone National Park
      (pp. 10-28)
      Sarah H. Millspaugh, Cathy Whitlock and Patrick J. Bartlein

      The fires of 1988 were unique in the history of Yellowstone National Park (YNP), because during that summer a relatively small number of fires occurred over an enormous region (Schullery 1989). Previous fires in YNP were confined to particular regions and comparatively small sizes (Chapters 4, 14). Although the 1988 event has been considered unprecedented on short time scales, knowledge of fire history is required to evaluate its uniqueness over longer periods. In particular, the 1988 fires raise important questions about the natural range of variability of large fires: What is the long-term frequency of fires in different parts of...

    • Chapter 3 Yellowstone Fires and the Physical Landscape
      (pp. 29-52)
      Grant A. Meyer

      Extensive severe fires like those of 1988 in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem clearly have major ecological significance via changes in age structure and composition of vegetation, but their impacts on the physical landscape can be equally profound. Both transient and persistent alterations of terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems may result from postfire geomorphic processes. Fire is particularly important as a catalyst of landscape change in mountain regions, where high-severity burns markedly increase the potential for surface runoff, soil erosion, and landslides on steep slopes, resulting in debris flows and floods during intense storms and rapid snowmelt. Such events account for a...

  5. Part II Effects on Individuals and Species

    • Chapter 4 Establishment, Growth, and Survival of Lodgepole Pine in the First Decade
      (pp. 55-101)
      Jay E. Anderson, Marshall Ellis, Carol D. von Dohlen and William H. Romme

      Fire is among the most important factors affecting the evolution, development, structure, and overall ecology of forest ecosystems in the Northern and Central Rocky Mountains (Habeck and Mutch 1973, Houston 1973, Brown 1975, La Roi and Hnatiuk 1980, Romme 1982, Christensen and others 1989, Johnson 1992, Johnson and Wowchuk 1993). Mean fire return intervals range from a decade or two in low elevation ponderosa pine(Pinus ponderosa)and Douglas fir(Pseudotsuga menziesii)forests to hundreds of years in high-elevation subalpine forests of the region (Arno 1980, Houston 1973, Romme 1982, Romme and Despain 1989, Barrett 1994,Chapter 2). Lodgepole pine(Pinus...

    • Chapter 5 Fire Effects, Elk, and Ecosystem Resilience in Yellowstone’s Sagebrush Grasslands
      (pp. 102-116)
      Benjamin F. Tracy

      Both large grazing mammals (Frank and others 1999, McNaughton 1985, McNaughton and others 1989) and fire (Daubenmire 1968, Wright and Bailey 1982) strongly affect the functioning of grassland ecosystems. Most of the grasslands burned in 1988 represented important summer, transitional, and winter range for Yellowstone’s elk and bison. Some postfire hypotheses suggested that the 1988 fires might increase forage quantity and quality for Yellowstone’s ungulates and possibly increase rates of nutrient cycling (Singer and others 1989, Chapters 6, 14). This study was initiated to help answer some of these questions. Specifically, I wanted to learn whether fire affected aboveground net...

    • Chapter 6 Elk Biology and Ecology Before and After the Yellowstone Fires of 1988
      (pp. 117-140)
      Francis J. Singer, Michael B. Coughenour and Jack E. Norland

      Elk occupy an intermediate position in postfire vegetal succession. Neither recent burns nor unburned continuous forests support the highest density of elk (Lyon 1966, Leege 1969, Martinka 1976) . Martinka (1976) concluded that the highest densities of elk were found in a complex of multiaged conifer stands used for thermal and predator avoidance, intermixed across the landscape with previously burned bunchgrass and seral shrub communities that were used primarily for feeding. The fires of 1988 in Yellowstone National Park (YNP) provided a unique opportunity to study the effects of large-scale wildfire on one of the largest migratory elk populations in...

  6. Part III Effects on Aquatic Systems

    • Chapter 7 Effects of Wildfire on Growth of Cutthroat Trout in Yellowstone Lake
      (pp. 143-164)
      Robert E. Gresswell

      Although fire is an important agent of disturbance and ecological change, research prior to the late 1980s was generally limited to the effects of prescribed fires (including slash burns following clear-cut logging) on terrestrial site productivity, vegetation regeneration, and succession (Gresswell 1999). Studies that examined relationships between fire and aquatic ecosystems were generally focused on the loss of soil through erosion and changes in water yield and quality. A few studies considered the effects of fire on aquatic biota, but the emphasis was on primary production and invertebrates (Albin 1979, Bradbury 1986, Tarapchak and Wright 1986).

      Since fires burned through...

    • Chapter 8 Stream Ecosystem Responses to Fire: The First Ten Years
      (pp. 165-188)
      G. Wayne Minshall, Todd V. Royer and Christopher T. Robinson

      The fundamental importance of disturbance in stream ecosystem dynamics and, in particular, of maintaining a heterogeneous or patchy habitat templet in both space and time is widely accepted (Resh and others 1988, Pringle and others 1988, Townsend 1989). Wildfires represent one of the primary forms of large-scale disturbance to natural streams in the Pacific Northwest (Swanson and others 1994). In the inland Northwest, prior to active fire suppression and modern anthropogenic changes in land use patterns, historical (1540–1940) fire episodes at widespread landscape scales have occurred on average every twelve years (Barrett and others 1997). During this 400-y period...

    • Chapter 9 Food Web Dynamics in Yellowstone Streams: Shifts in the Trophic Basis of a Stream Food Web After Wildfire Disturbance
      (pp. 189-199)
      Timothy B. Mihuc

      Food webs in lotic systems are poorly understood. The compilation of freshwater food webs by Briand (1985) included only nine streams, while that by Schoenly and others (1991) included eleven streams. Since those compilations, several studies have added to our knowledge of stream food webs primarily with respect to link relationships and connectance (Hildrew 1992, Closs and Lake 1994, Mihuc and Minshall 1995, Findlay and others 1996, Tavares-Cromar and Williams 1996, Benke and Wallace 1997). Recently several investigators have attempted to determine energy flow in aquatic systems (Junger and Planas 1994, Benke and Wallace 1997, Whitledge and Rabeni 1997), but...

    • Chapter 10 Role of Fire in Determining Annual Water Yield in Mountain Watersheds
      (pp. 200-232)
      Phillip E. Farnes, Ward W. McCaughey and Katherine J. Hansen

      This chapter presents the computational procedures for estimating average annual water yields based on annual precipitation and vegetation cover types. This procedure allows for an estimation of water yields under current conditions, under various levels of vegetation management, or under historic water yield based on fire history.

      Historic water yield information is needed to determine the natural range of water yield variability so that hydrologic response can be correctly determined. Historically, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has maintained stream gaging stations, the Natural Resources and Conservation Service (NRCS; formerly the Soil Conservation Service, SCS) has coordinated the snow survey program...

  7. Part IV Terrestrial Ecosystem and Landscape Perspective

    • Chapter 11 Early Postfire Forest Succession in the Heterogeneous Teton Landscape
      (pp. 235-278)
      Kathleen M. Doyle

      Standing on Wildcat Peak just south of Yellowstone National Park, one can look west into the glacially carved basin of Jackson Hole and beyond to the towering peaks of the majestic Teton Range. The rolling, high-elevation, forested terrain of the Pinyon Peak Highlands to the east in the Bridger Teton National Forest provides yet another contrast. In the heterogeneous landscapes of the Teton region, topography, disturbance history, geology, vegetation, and weather patterns vary over relatively short distances. The topographic variation creates a mosaic of moisture conditions for plants and soil development, and creates barriers to the spread of fire. A...

    • Chapter 12 Snags and Coarse Woody Debris: An Important Legacy of Forests in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem
      (pp. 279-298)
      Daniel B. Tinker and Dennis H. Knight

      Severe forest fires, such as those that occurred in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem during the summer of 1988, create ephemeral forests of dead trees. For many people the trees are both an eyesore and a waste of salvageable wood. Harvesting the wood of burned trees is an option in many areas, but ecological processes in national parks are allowed to proceed whenever possible with minimal human intervention. The standing dead trees, commonly known as snags, have been falling to the ground and decomposing for millennia in most forest ecosystems. On the ground, the logs and large branches ($ > 7$cm diameter)...

    • Chapter 13 Fire Patterns and Ungulate Survival in Northern Yellowstone Park: The Results of Two Independent Models
      (pp. 299-317)
      Linda L. Wallace, Michael B. Coughenour, Monica G. Turner and William H. Romme

      Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is renowned for its natural beauty. The original park boundaries were established to contain the geyser basins and hot springs, but they were later altered to include more of the ecosystem, such as watersheds and vegetational communities, within natural boundaries (Haines 1977, Schullery 1997). This was done in an effort to protect habitat for the abundant wildlife found in the park. According to current surveys, one of the reasons park visitors give for their decision to see Yellowstone is the chance to view wildlife in its natural surroundings. Therefore it is not surprising that when the...

    • Chapter 14 Ten Years After the 1988 Yellowstone Fires: Is Restoration Needed?
      (pp. 318-361)
      William H. Romme and Monica G. Turner

      Coniferous forests in many parts of western North America have been substantially altered by human activities in the past years and are now at risk of abnormally severe disturbance, impaired ecosystem function, and loss of biodiversity. For example, ponderosa pine forests in many locations today are characterized by unusually high densities of small-diameter trees, a paucity of large trees and snags, severely suppressed herbaceous plants, and excessive quantities of well-connected live and dead fuels. These changes are the result primarily of fire exclusion, excessive livestock grazing, and unsustainable logging activities conducted in the past. Efforts are now under way to...

    • Chapter 15 Epilogue: After the Fires. What Have We Learned?
      (pp. 362-372)
      Linda L. Wallace and Norman L. Christensen

      For well over a century, disturbance and the changes deriving from it have been central objects of study for ecologists. The Yellowstone fires have most certainly provided an ideal laboratory for the expansion of such studies. That said, it is also true that ecologists have historically not always communicated results of such studies effectively to natural resource managers (Peters 1991), with the result that management protocols and practices are not always informed by the most up-to-date science. Such communication is a central goal of this volume.

      What sorts of questions do resource managers and the general public have in the...

  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 373-374)
  9. Index
    (pp. 375-390)