UW focuses on Ponderosa pine restoration after fire devastates Rogers Research SiteWritten by Gayle Smith
The Rogers Research site is 320 acres donated to the University of Wyoming (UW) for forestry-related research. The site, which is new in the state of Wyoming, according to Steve Williams, was willed to UW by Colonel William Rogers a decade ago.
“We were excited to have this opportunity because, to some degree, we have ignored forestry research in the state,” Williams said. “In actuality, forests make up a pretty large percentage of land use in the state and serve as important areas for wildlife.”
Williams is a professor in ecosystem science and management in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming.
The Rogers Research site lies in the Laramie Mountains, about eight miles from Laramie Peak, at an average elevation of 7,000 feet. The vegetation primarily consists of Ponderosa Pine and some Aspen.
“Surrounded by the Medicine Bow National Forest on three sides, the soil is made up of granite and similar metamorphic materials,” Williams continued. “This makes the ground somewhat infertile. It is harder to grow trees there because of the low soil fertility.”
Up until the Arapahoe fire in 2012, the area served as a habitat for a wide variety of game and non-game wildlife, in addition to domestic animals from adjacent grazing allotments and private land. The opportunities for research seemed endless, Williams said.
Then the Arapahoe fire burned 100,000 acres in the Laramie Mountains during early spring 2012.
During its fury, it also devastated the Rogers Research parcel, burning 99.5 percent of it, including the lone cabin on the property. Nearly 95 percent of the Ponderosa pine on the property were burnt.
“Immediately, it became a fire research site,” Williams said. “The focus is now on post-fire restoration.”
With the poor soil fertility, researchers have focused on ways to reestablish Ponderosa Pine and control weeds.
“There are several questions we are focusing on,” Williams said. “We are trying to develop an erosion control grass seed mix and find a way to spread it. By hand is the method we have found that works best,” he explained.
Research is also being conducted to determine how planting treatments influence restoration.
“We are doing a lot of replanting with tubular and one-year-old seedling trees that were produced by Colorado State University,” he explained. “We are replanting with seeds and allowing natural regeneration to occur, as well.”
Researchers are also experimenting with three cutting treatments and looking at how these treatments impact post-fire restoration in the area.
In the first treatment, areas with dead Ponderosa pine are cut, and all the wood and slash are removed from the plots. In the second treatment, only the wood is removed, leaving the slash, and the third treatment is uncut dead pine as a control.
“It takes a lot of work to clear the burnt timber from these plots,” Williams said. “Ultimately, we have found the slash contains quite a few nutrients that are available slowly over a long period of time.”
The researchers are working with establishing each treatment in each of four watersheds located on the property. Each plot is 0.62 acres in size.
“They include three cutting treatments – no cutting; cut and leave slash; and cut and remove slash, three planting treatments – no planting, planting with Ponderosa seed and planting with Ponderosa seedlings, and two erosion control treatments – no erosion control and planting with an erosion control seed mixture,” Williams wrote in a synopsis of the project. “This is a three-by-three-by-two factorial experiment. This means that each treatment will include interaction possibilities with all other treatments.”
The study will be monitored on an annual basis for the next five years and at two-year intervals thereafter, he added.
The area is also being re-fenced to limit access by domestic animals.
Room for the future
Despite the current projects, Williams said there is a lot of room for other studies.
One he would particularly like to see is a pine bark beetle resistance study and the development of trees bred for tolerance to the pine bark beetle.
Williams sees the potential for a lot of new information that could help in future restoration projects in the forest.
“It should provide information on the natural regeneration of Ponderosa pine, as well as survival of seed-planted and seedling-planted pine,” he said.
In the meantime, a lot of work needs to be done to reestablish the plot.
Williams said, “We will continue to monitor the trees and establish them annually in the future.”