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Fire Ecology Program

The idea–

Wildfire is the predominant disturbance agent in the Northern Rockies. The nearly annual occurrence of wildfire as a part of the larger landscape is the environmental backdrop against which our native wildlife species have evolved. A number of native species are dependent on wildfires or wildfire-created habitats as evidenced by our landbird monitoring data, which show that some are nearly restricted in their distribution to such conditions.  Unfortunately, while there is strong evidence from the literature that we need to maintain burned-forest habitat for burned-forest specialists, there is little information showing precisely how much, where, or in what structural condition.  The lack of information is greatest for species such as the Black-backed Woodpecker—a sensitive species in the USFS Northern Region.

Woodpecker activity in a burned tree, photo by Amy Cilimburg

Our research is designed to uncover the response of the Black-backed Woodpecker and other bird species to fires with varying pre-fire management history, fire severity, and post-fire salvage treatments within the mid-elevation mixed-conifer forest types. We are using the data to better understand the conditions needed by this fire specialist, to evaluate the ecological consequences of pre-fire fuels treatments and post-fire salvage logging, and to significantly improve our ability to design future treatments that do not compromise the needs of fire-dependent organisms.



As of fall 2007, we have completed 4 field seasons and have surveyed for Black-backed Woodpeckers (via point counts and playbacks) in 18 different fires distributed throughout western Montana. You can use our newly developed geospatial web interface (link) to view the locations of all survey points associated with this program, to query any point to obtain information associated with that point, and to obtain information on the relationship between fire severity and probability of occurrence for a variety of bird species.

  • 2007 Final JFSP Report R. L. Hutto. Summarizes the research mentioned above that was sponsored by the Joint Fire Science Program.
  • 2011 Presentation by R. L. Hutto (.ppt 39 MB). A Bird's-Eye View of Severe Fires. Click OPEN to view or SAVE to download and read accompanying text (notes in slide view).
  • Link to Joint Fire Sciences Brief for more information on Fire Ecology and Black-backed Woodpeckers.



Jeremy Roberts, producer and owner of Conservation Media, has made several conservation-minded natural history films, including this trailer from his award winning film "Disturbance". Click here to see the video trailer and here to see the full video.


Portraits in Black Video–

A series of images from severely burned forest help illustrate the value of such forests to those who might not believe such value exists. Thanks to Marc Cohn for permission to use his music as background for the beauty herein.

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Joint Fire Science Program, USDA Forest Service Northern Region, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, National Geographic, Glacier National Park, Plum Creek Timber Co.

Project duration–



Plum Creek Timber Co.; Jenny Woolf Black-backed Woodpecker Ph.D. research.


Dr. richard Hutto