Lolo Peak Fire Could Have Destroyed Extremely Rare Grove of Subalpine Larch
While the Lolo Peak fire rages, threatening homes as it expands, another valuable resource most people don’t know about is in great danger. A grove of extremely rare trees is in an area that appears to have been engulfed by the fire up on Carlton Ridge.
"It is, to my knowledge, the largest patch of what we called old growth subalpine larch," said MSU Extension Forestry Professor Peter Kolb. "Subalpine larch is an uncommon species that we find up high in the rocky crags up in the mountains, up high. It is a species of concern because as the climate warms, as it has been for the last 20 - 30 years, this species doesn't do so well anymore, because it's niche is cold areas."
The size and age of this subalpine larch grove is part of what makes it so rare, the trees here are thought to be over 300 years old. The fire may have helped the subalpine larch or destroyed it. Kolb says the intensity of the fire will be the determining factor.
"After a fire burns through, you get a pulse of nutrients, particularly nitrogen that larch really likes, so fire tends to enhance larch presence on the landscape," Kolb said "Alternatively, if that fire ripped through that stand as an intense fire fueled by the other trees in the area, because larch is not particularly flammable, and it actually burns so hot that it kills them, then it is a loss of a very important resource."
Kolb says that oftentimes a rare grove of trees like this will lead to some preventative thinning of other trees around the perimeter of the protected grove, but that that did not happen on Lolo Peak.