Variability in Fire Regimes of High-Elevation Whitebark Pine Communities, Western Montana, USA

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We investigated the stand history of whitebark pine forests on 3 mountains in the Lolo National Forest, Montana, USA to characterize the fire regimes and other disturbance agents that historically operated at these sites and to explore the potential influences of modern fire suppression on these forests. We used hLarsonistorical fire atlas data and dendroecological data to reconstruct the distinct stand. The fire regimes of each site fit within the general definition of mixed-severity fire regimes, but distinct differences in fire frequency anween them. All 3 stands contained at least 1 post-disturbance cohort and had experienced at least 1 widespread fire over their histories. We found no consistent fire—climate relationship at these sites. Mountain pine beetles were the primary mortality agent in the current stands at all 3 sites. Subalpine fir began establishing at each site within 2 decades of the most recent widespread fire and well before fire suppression was effective in this region. Fire suppression may have reduced the occurrence of fire during the late 20th century at all 3 sites, but only the forest on Point Six has exceeded the mean interval between widespread fires. The differences in fire activity and effects of fire suppression that we observed at these sites are likely the result of different biophysical site characteristics and disturbance legacies and hold important implications for the development of site-specific management strategies for whitebark pine restoration.