MISSOULA, Mont. –Less than three years have passed since the fires of 2017 and the Lolo National Forest is still making significant steps toward recovery in areas impacted by severe wildfire. Working in close partnership with the National Forest Foundation (NFF), a national nonprofit partner of the U.S. Forest Service, crews have completed planting of over 240,000 Ponderosa Pine and Western Larch seedlings across the Missoula, Seeley Lake, Superior and Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger Districts located in Missoula, Mineral and Sanders counties.
Planting occurred throughout April and May within the Rice Ridge, Lolo Creek Complex, Sunrise, and Sheep Gap wildfire burned areas. The seedlings will help to stabilize nearby watersheds, increase cover for vegetation, and improve habitat for wildlife in the future. Areas impacted by these fires are fire-dependent ecosystems that have evolved adaptations to respond positively to fire and rely on fire to reproduce and grow. While most of these locations have already begun the slow process of natural recovery and regeneration, some areas burned so hot that regeneration is only possible with additional planting efforts.
“Ongoing recovery efforts are possible because of the strong partnership we have with the National Forest Foundation,” stated Carolyn Upton, Lolo National Forest Supervisor. “With the Foundation’s help, we are encouraging the process of regeneration in severely impacted areas.”
The Lolo National Forest worked closely with the NFF, headquartered in Missoula, MT, leading up to the spring tree planting season to identify burned areas in need. The NFF, with support from small businesses and individuals, contributed over $90,300 to purchase seedlings for planting this spring. This project is just one example of the National Forest Foundations’ 50 Million for Our Forests campaign, which addresses the most pressing reforestation needs on National Forests across the country.
“We are pleased to support projects locally here on the Lolo National Forest that help contribute to resilient forests – these projects are outstanding examples of the reforestation needs we are trying to address at a larger scale,” said Wes Swaffar, NFF’s Director of Reforestation and Partnerships. “We are grateful for both our generous supporters and our strong partnership with the U.S. Forest Service.”
These partnership efforts build upon accomplishments from spring of 2019. Crews planted 130,000 native Ponderosa Pine and Western Larch seedlings across the Lolo Peak Fire on the Missoula Ranger District and the Copper King Fire on the Plains-Thompson Falls Ranger District. Together, these projects will help restore a total of about 570 acres with support from the NFF.
Planting is accomplished through contract crews consisting of up to 12 skilled planters working approximately eight-hour days. The seedlings were grown at the Coeur d’Alene Forest Service Nursery, using seeds harvested from the Lolo National Forest at similar elevations to where the planting took place. Fortunately, rain fell during or shortly after planting in these areas which will help the seedlings survive and thrive through the summer. Forest Service personnel will monitor the progress of the seedlings for the next several years. If all goes well, most of the seedlings will survive to continue to stabilize the watershed and surrounding landscape.