Field Trips

We will offer conference participants the chance to go from the conference hall into the field to see the fire ecology of the Northern Rockies, the sites of long-standing fuel treatment projects, and how fires have affected nearby communities. To that end, we present an itinerary of three different types of field trips: self-guided, half day on Wednesday, and full day on Friday.  No concurrent sessions have been planned for Wednesday afternoon, in order to leave time for half-day field trips in the local area.  For more info, contact Karin Riley,

Field Trips are open to all conference attendees.  Registration links for workshops and field trips are sent via email after completion of conference registration.  If you have misplaced this information and need the links, contact Catia Juliana.

View the Detailed Field Trip Summary and Speaker List Here.

Wednesday Afternoon Field Trips

Restoration fuel treatments in old growth larch and ponderosa pine
Fire exclusion in this stand of 300+ year old ponderosa pine and western larch has resulted in significantly altered stand characteristics relative to historic conditions. With 2-4 missed fire cycles, a dense understory of shade-tolerant Douglas-fir has become established increasing the competitive stress on the old trees and greatly elevating the potential for high severity fire. In 1998, Misssoula Fire Lab researchers in collaboration with the Lolo National Forest established a demonstration study to compare ecosystem conditions in five contrasting restoration treatments which utilize various combinations of mechanical thinning and prescribed fire. Post-treatment response values monitored include stand structure and composition, quantity and quality of fuels, tree physiology and growth, and soil characteristics. Some significant contrasting responses have resulted which can aid managers in decisions about the controversial issue of active management of old-growth forests.   Mick Harrington and Steve Arno will lead field trip participants on a tour of the treatments. This field trip will involve a short hike in steep off-trail terrain. Participants are advised to bring warm clothes and rain gear, since the weather can be chilly and wet this time of year.

Blue Mountain
Take a walk through the 11-year-old Black Mountain fire to see the consequences of that natural disturbance event from an ecologist’s perspective.  Dr. Hutto is an ecologist in the Division of Biological Sciences at UM who has conducted research on the effects of fire on bird communities since the 1988 Yellowstone fires, which helped fuel the still-pervasive sentiment that the fires we see today are unnatural, and that the mismanagement of forests is to blame.  Although the aftermath of the Black Mountain fire is getting on in years, you should still be able to witness firsthand what the birds have to say about the consequences of this fire.  The walk is designed to expose several post-disturbance patterns that are inconsistent with some of the conventional wisdom surrounding fires in this dry, mixed-conifer forest type.  The walk is a great companion activity to the special session on “The ecological importance of maintaining severe fire on the western forested landscape.” During this trip, participants will take a short walk on fairly even terrain. Participants are advised to bring warm clothes and rain gear, since the weather can be chilly and wet this time of year.

Fire Lab
Take a one-of-a-kind, extensive tour of the Missoula Fire Sciences Laboratory where you will be shown some of the current research studies being conducted at this internationally renowned wildland fire science facility.  You will see the burn chamber, wind tunnel, soils laboratory, fire history laboratory, and MODIS satellite receiving station.  Some recent research will be demonstrated in these facilities including burning masticated fuelbeds, measuring soil heating after organic fires, the physics of fire ignition, and fire whirl generation.  The field trip will start with a general introduction and history of the fire lab and a half hour of presentations on current research efforts.  Then participants will tour the facilities and speak with the scientists conducting the fire research.

Missoula Technical Development Center/National Weather Service/Smokejumper Center
Missoula has a unique collection of government-run facilities that are important in managing wildland fire.  The Missoula Technology and Development Center (MTDC) has developed a wide variety of technologies, many of which are used in fire management, including the fire shelter, pulaski, and fire retardant.  The National Weather Service has super-computers that forecast fire weather, and the Smokejumper Center deploys elite firefighters from airplanes at a moment’s notice.  Participants on this field trip will visit MTDC and see the latest in technology development for land and fire management.  Next, the National Weather Service will provide a tour of their facility emphasizing fire weather forecasts.  Lastly, participants will be given a tour of the Smokejumper Center and Northern Region Aerial Fire Depot.

Missoula City
Sightsee around Missoula. Participants will visit local attractions such as the Missoula Art Museum, Missoula’s carousel, the Historical Museum at Forest Missoula, and the Big Sky Brewery.

Friday All-Day Field Trips

40 Years of Wilderness Fire in the Selway-Bitterroot
Take a tour to the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness and learn about the oldest Wilderness fire program in the Forest Service. You will be guided by some of the pioneering managers and scientists who started and nurtured the program. Hear from them how they were thinking about ecosystem restoration, the risk of fires burning out of the wilderness, and the choice between accepting risk now versus postponing that risk into that future. Current managers will also be on hand to discuss the management of recent long-duration wildfires, the effort that goes into protecting values at risk, and what challenges lie ahead.  In addition to stops along the road to observe recent fire patterns, the day will include lunch at the Magruder Ranger Station and a short hike to observe effects from a recent fire. Participants are advised to bring warm clothes and rain gear, since the weather can be chilly and wet this time of year.

The Fires of 2000: Revisiting Social, Political, and Ecological Issues
Following the theme of the conference, we have organized a field trip to visit one of the largest fires to burn in the Bitterroot valley in recorded history.  During the fires, newspaper headlines proclaimed the fire to be “the worst in 50 years”, but did local land managers agree? The fires of August 2000 burned approximately 350,000 acres and consumed 79 homes.  Participants will travel to a part of the burned area south of Darby, Montana.  This field trip consists of eight separate stops, with each stop consisting of a short presentation followed by a short discussion of the important attributes of large fires.  Themes of the stops include: the ecology of large fires, daily fire behavior of the Fires of 2000, suppression strategies for these fires, effect on local fisheries, post-fire debris flows, social implications, and impacts of fuel treatments. This field trip was designed as a forum to discuss political, social, and ecological issues that govern wildland fire management in today’s society in the context of large fires. Participants are advised to bring warm clothes and rain gear, since the weather can be chilly and wet this time of year.

Fuels reduction and restoration in mixed conifer forests of the southwestern Crown of the Continent: Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program site visits and discussions
Fuels reduction and restoration in forests historically characterize by mixed severity fire remains a controversial topic for researchers and managers. In the southwestern Crown of the Continent of western Montana, a diverse group of stakeholders has been working together with the US Forest Service to develop landscape strategies of fuels reduction and restoration of fire regimes in mixed conifer forest types. The Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program (CFLRP) has been partially supporting this work since 2009. During the field trip, we will visit several sites representing the diversity of forest conditions located in the Seeley Lake and Swan Valley area, including pre- and post-treatment areas, recently burned forests, and a stand supporting the national champion western larch where mechanical fuels reduction and prescribed fire were used to reduce crown fire risk over 10 years ago. We will discuss opportunities and challenges associated with collaboratively developed fuels reduction and restoration projects in mixed conifer forests. Participants are advised to bring warm clothes and rain gear, since the weather can be chilly and wet this time of year.

Self-guided (no registration necessary)

Printed guides for these trips will be available online to the public. These trips can be taken on Monday, when there is space in the conference schedule, or at any time. These trips will be designed so that sites will be accessible at the time of the conference in early May (which will unfortunately exclude some destinations due to snow).

  • Yellowstone Fires of 1988 and recovery – The iconic 1988 fires in Yellowstone National Park captured the nation’s attention. These widespread fires captivated the nation and threw the “let it burn” policy into question. The extensive lodgepole pine forests of the area support a crown fire regime, and during the fire, the serotinous pine cones distributed seed that regenerated the forests. Yellowstone does not have a formal fire-ecology related tour or hikes, but there are a few shorter hikes with fire interpretive signs along the way.  The Park also has some roadside fire interpretive signs which could be pieced into a drive around the park. 
      Mammoth to Norris
      Bunsen Peak overlook, roadside pullout 2 miles south of Mammoth Hot Springs, east side of road: “The Fires of ’88” “The Burn Mosaic”
      Grizzly Lake trailhead area – roadside pullout 14 miles south of Mammoth, west side of road: “Twice Burned”
      Norris to Canyon
      Blowdown pullout 3 miles east of Norris; 9 miles west of Canyon (extremely short boardwalk): “Life at the Blowdown: A Flourishing Forest”
      Tower to Mammoth
      Roadside pullout between Petrified Tree and Tower, north side of road: “Winds of Change”
      Forces of the Northern Range Self-guiding Trail (1/2-mile loop boardwalk with 10 exhibits) located on the north side of the road, approximately 6 – 9 miles west of Mammoth; two fire waysides: “Fire–A Fundamental Force”, “The Forest that Needs Fire”
      Madison Junction to West Entrance
      Roadside pullout 1.4 miles from Madison Junction, south side of road  “Out of the Ashes”
      Two Ribbons Trail (1/2 mile boardwalk loop): “Two Ribbons Trail” (identical at west trailhead and east trailhead), “Land of Lodgepoles: Living with Fire”
      Roadside pullout by Lewis River Canyon, south side of the road: “Riding the Wind”*Note that the Tower to Canyon (Dunraven Pass/Mt. Washburn) section of road does not tentatively open until Friday, May 23 (opening could be earlier or later due to snow), which could make a continuous drive through the park difficult.
    • For more information, contact: Rebecca Smith, Fire Ecologist, Yellowstone National Park,, 307-344-2474. A visit to Yellowstone is also a good opportunity to see the multiple geothermic features, buffalo, and wolves. The Park is about 4-5 hours driving from Missoula.  Download the Wildland Fire section of the 2014 Yellowstone Resources and Issues Handbook Here.
  • Lick Creek. This 7 mile drive through the heart of Lick Creek Demonstration/Research Forest includes 10 stops at points of interest. You will see views of the majestic Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains, and learn about scientific research and resource management occurring in this beautiful ponderosa pine forest. Fuel treatments have been conducted at this site for 100 years. Initially, large ponderosa pines were cut, then Doug fir invaded, and now restoration efforts are being conducted. This site is south of Hamilton and north of Darby, about a 1.5-hour drive from Missoula. From Missoula, take Highway 93 south. The drive will take you through the breathtaking Bitterroot Valley. The Bitterroot Mountains will be on your right, to the west, and the Sapphire Mountains will be on your left, to the east. You’ll pass through several small towns. After about an hour, you’ll drive through Hamilton, Montana. Continue south. About 12.5 miles south of Hamilton, turn right onto Lake Como Road. Follow signs to Lake Como (about 4-5 miles from the main highway). Driving time is approximately an hour and a half. The Lick Creek Demonstration/Research Forest Interpretive Auto Tour starts on the north side of Lake Como. Download the Lick Creek Interpretive Auto Tour Brochure Here.
  • The Bitterroot fires of 2000. Hike through a canyon in the Bitterroot mountains recently affected by fire. Here is a map/directions for the self-guided field trip to Mill Creek/Bitterroot canyon.
  • Glacier National Park. Huckleberry Mountain Nature Trail takes you through/near habitat burned in 1967 and again in 2003, and  The Rocky Point Nature Trail takes you through a fire which burned on the shores of Lake McDonald in 2003.  Driving Directions:  You will enter the park at the West Entrance and continue ahead until the stop sign. Take a left at the stop sign and you will be on the Camas Road. Follow the signs into Fish Creek Campground and right near the Kiosk for the campground is a road called the Inside North Fork road that leads off to the left. Take that road for a couple hundred yards and there will be a gravel pit parking area on your left. Across the road is the Rocky Point Fire Trailhead. Get back in your vehicles and go back out to the Camas road, take a right and follow that road all the way to the end. On your left is a trailhead to the Forest and Fire nature trail (formerly known as the Huckleberry Nature trail). It is right near the old Camas Entrance. The Camas Road is about 12 miles all paved in its entirety. If you have extra time, you can drive up the outside North Fork road and look back into the park, there have been multiple fires that have burned in the last couple decades. The Outside North Fork road is a mixture of dirt and poor pavement.