The fire-adapted forests of the Blue Mountains are suffering from a forest health problem of catastrophic proportions. Contributing to the decline of forest health are such factors as the extensive harvesting of the western larch and ponderosa pine overstory during the 1900s, attempted exclusion of fire from a fire-dependent ecosystem, and the continuing drought. The composition of the forest at lower elevations has shifted from historically open-grown stands primarily of ponderosa pine and western larch to stands with dense understories of Douglas-fir and grand fir. Epidemic levels of insect infestations and large wildfires now are causing widespread mortality that has a profound effect on forest health by adversely affecting visual quality, wildlife habitat, stream sedimentation, and timber values. The Blue Mountain situation may foretell of a much broader forest health decline in the Western United States A management strategy to restore forest health at lower elevations will require that the seral ponderosa pine and western larch stands be managed for much lower tree densities and a more open coniferous understory than have been the case. A combination of silvicultural partial cutting and prescribed fire on a large scale will be needed to produce the desired future condition of healthy, open, and parklike forests. We have attempted to exclude fire from fire-dependent ecosystems with disastrous results. Now we must take bold steps in restoring forest health to the Blue Mountains through an integrated strategy of silvicultural and fire prescriptions.
Mutch, R.W.; Arno, S.F.; Brown, J.K.; Carlson, C.E.; Ottmar, R.D.; Peterson, J.L. 1993. Forest health in the Blue Mountains: a management strategy for fire-adapted ecosystems. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-310. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station. 14 p. (Quigley, T.M., ec. Forest health in the Blue Mountains: science perspectives)