Stand-Replacing Fire in Subalpine Forests of the Southwestern United States

EPA Grant Number: MA916287
Title: Stand-Replacing Fire in Subalpine Forests of the Southwestern United States
Investigators: Gass, Tobah M.
Institution: University of Idaho
EPA Project Officer: Zambrana, Jose
Project Period: January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006
Project Amount: $111,344
RFA: GRO Fellowships for Graduate Environmental Study (2004) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Fellowship - Natural and Life Sciences , Academic Fellowships , Biology/Life Sciences


The role of fire in the subalpine forests of the Southwest has received little attention to date. There is no published research on the fire ecology of these high-altitude forests that are the source of much of the available surface water in an arid region. Subalpine forests in other parts of the western United States and Canada are known to have a history of stand-replacing fires. Although this was previously thought to be true of all subalpine forests, recent research indicates that there is considerable variability and that it is necessary to conduct geographically specific research. Knowledge of the role of fire is relevant to the protection of human health and the environment in leading to an understanding of the consequences of fire on air quality, water quality, the watershed, and downstream population centers and irrigators. Knowledge of the natural role of fire also is critical to planning appropriate fire management policies regarding fire suppression and prescribed fire, each of which, used correctly or incorrectly, can have significant environmental consequences for wildlife habitat, fisheries, water storage, and biogeochemical cycling. Because past fires determine the nature of subsequent fires by their effects on vegetation patterns, the role of fires in the future can be affected by the fire management decisions being made in the present. The objective of this research project is to begin to unravel the complex disturbance interactions of a subalpine forest, including the roles of fire, wind, weather, vegetation, and topography.


This study will take place in the upper Pecos River watershed of the Pecos Wilderness in the Santa Fe National Forest. The spatial pattern of the Las Trampas fire of 2002 will be analyzed to see if particular aspects of the prefire environment can be correlated with burn severity. Predictor variables to be analyzed include age, composition, density, and topographic position. A sampling protocol is being designed to identify the differences between areas that burned and the extensive areas within the fire perimeter that did not burn.

The results of this research will be a first step in understanding fire dynamics in subalpine forests of the southwestern United States. This will contribute both to improved decision making at the local level and understanding of the full range of variability that exists in the disturbance regimes of subalpine forests in the Rocky Mountains.

Supplemental Keywords:

fellowship, subalpine forest, southwestern United States, fire, Pecos Wilderness, fire management, RFA, Ecosystem Protection, Scientific Discipline, Ecosystem Protection/Environmental Exposure & Risk, Restoration, Forestry, Ecological Effects - Environmental Exposure & Risk, Environmental Monitoring, Ecology and Ecosystems, ecological exposure, prescribed burns, biodiversity, diversity, ecology, watershed, wildlife, forest, regional species diversity, Santa Fe National Forest, conservation, plant diversity, ecosystem effects, terrestrial, ecological recovery, oak woodlands, berry producing species, ecosystem, water quality, economic, fire ecology, environmentally stable landscape

Relevant Websites:

2004 STAR Graduate Fellowship Conference Poster (PDF, 1p., 160KB, about PDF)

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2004
  • 2005
  • Final