Project Name: Stevensville Ranger District Fire Rehabilitation
Location: Bitterroot National Forest, MT
Number of Trees: 79,000
If you’ve ever visited America’s western forests, there’s a good chance you’ve seen ponderosa pines. Standing 100-plus feet tall, these trees can live to be 600 years old and are characterized by their barren, lower trunks — usually the bottom half of the tree’s orange-brown trunk is without branches. Their seeds are favored by a range of birds, from red-winged blackbirds to Clark’s nutcracker, as well as squirrels and chipmunks. Other birds, like grouse, use the needles for nests, while mice and porcupines make similar use of the bark. Native Americans also valued the ponderosa pine for medicinal, food, building and other purposes.
Ponderosa pine grows quickly, compared to other tree species. It firmly anchors itself in the soil, which helps it withstand wind and stabilize soils in the surrounding area. It can survive cold winters and is tolerant to drought. However, in the West, where fire is a fact of forest life, ponderosas really stand tall.
Ponderosa pines have thick bark that makes them resistant to fire. Even its seedlings can survive low-intensity fires, which is why it’s an ideal species to use to reforest an area where fires are common. Bitterroot National Forest in southwest Montana and Idaho contains the largest expanse of continuous, pristine wilderness in the lower 48 states, but 2009’s Kootenai Fire and 2006’s Gash Fire left areas of this forest in need of assistance. American Forests is partnering with the USDA Forest Service to plant 79,000 ponderosa pine and western larch across 279 acres of the fire-burned Bitterroot to help bolster the forest’s watershed protection, provide habitat for wildlife and restore recreation activities.
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