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Elaine K. Sutherland

Supervisory Research Biologist

Research Biologist & Scientist-in-Charge, Coram Experimental Forest

Forestry Sciences Laboratory
800 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
Contact Elaine K. Sutherland

Current Research

1) We have little detailed knowledge about fire regimes of mid- higher elevation forests in the northern Rockies, and I am performing fire scar and tree demographic analysis across multiple climate zones in Western Montana in mid- high-elevation forests. 2) Fire-climate outlooks ( Seasonal - > 1 year) can be used by fire managers for longterm resource planning. I am co-PI of a team evaluating past large-scale climate/fire relationships across western North America 3) I am leading several new analytical approaches to fire history data and tool development for performing them 4) I am continuing work from my previous assignment in Ohio on fire regimes and prescribed burning treatments in oak forests.

Research Interests

My research interests include using tree-ring analysis and other research tools to understand disturbance processes (particularly fire) and landscape pattern, and relationships to climate; using tree-ring analysis to understand how physical injuries from events like fire affects wood and scar formation processes. My professional interests extend to synthesizing existing scientific information for scientists and managers and studying the relationship between disturbance and forest community dynamics, and application of prescribed burn.

Past Research

This research is particularly useful for land and fire managers at all levels (for example, Districts, Forests, Regions) when they are developing plans. They are required to demonstrate understanding about how forests and other vegetation types developed the way they did, and what management approaches would be useful in making the plan successful. Disturbance, especially fire, is an important process in most forests; the results from my work shows how fire varies at broad spatial and temporal scales in higher-elevation forests. My work is also used by other scientists, to understand fire regimes in these forest types and in applying the methods I develop in analyzing fire history data.

Why This Research is Important

1) The focus of my early work was how fire suppression (and other historical factors), and then prescribed burning (and indirect effects), affected the growth of ponderosa pines in northern Arizona. 2) This was good preparation for my postdoctoral work in Utah, where I investigated the effects of historical sulphur dioxide smelting on Douglas-fir ecophysiology and growth. 3) In my first assignment for Forest Service Research in Ohio, I investigated the history of fire in oak forests (previously considered asbestos forests), and initiated experiments applying prescribed burning to regenerate oak forests; this work influenced how Region 9 now manages oak forests. 4) I moved to western Montana and began my current research (and research administration), but also led a team synthesizing information about the environmental consequences of fuel treatments on ponderosa pine (US westwide).


  • University of Arizona, Tucson, Ph.D., Department of Watershed Management, and Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, 1989
  • University of Arizona, Tucson, M.S., Department of Geosciences, and Laboratory of Tree-Ring Research, 1983
  • University of Virginia, Charlottesville, B.A., Department of Environmental Sciences, 1978
  • Sussex University, Visiting Student, Physical Geography, 1976
  • Professional Experience

    Scientist-in-Charge, Coram Experimental Forest, US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    2007 to present

    Supervisory Research Biologist, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, Forest and Woodland Ecosystems Program, Missoula
    2007 to present

    Affiliate Faculty, College of Forestry and Conservation & the Division of Biology, University of Montana, Missoula
    1999 to present

    Scientist-in-Charge, Tenderfoot Experimental Forest, US Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station
    2007 to 2010

    Project Leader & Research Biologist, USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, Ecology and Management of Northern Rocky Mountain Forests, Missoula
    1999 to 2006

    Adjunct Faculty, Department of Evolution, Ecology, & Organismal Biology, The Ohio State University, Columbus.
    1994 to 2001

    Research Ecologist, USFS Northeastern Research Station, Quantitative Methods for Modeling Response of Northeastern Forest Ecosystems to Management and Enironmental Stresses, Delaware, Ohio
    1992 to 1999

    Senior Research Scientist, Native Plants Inc., Salt Lake City, UT
    1989 to 1991

    Post-Doctoral Scientist, Native Plants Inc., Salt Lake City, UT
    1987 to 1989

    Visiting Scientist, Department of Biology, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
    1984 to 1987

    Graduate Research Assistant (except 1981-1982), Laboratory of Tree Ring Research, University of Arizona, Tucson
    1979 to 1984

    Drs. Harold C. Fritts, Marvin Stokes, Steve Leavitt
    Graduate Teaching Assistant, Cell Biology, University of Arizona, Tucson
    1981 to 1982

    Research Assistant, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
    1978 to 1979

    Dr. Roger Pielke
    Undergraduate Research Assistant, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia
    1976 to 1978

    Dr. Robert L. Ellison

    Professional Organizations

    • Association for Tree-Ring Analysis, Member ( 2015 to present )
    • International Association of Wildland Fire, Member ( 2015 to present )
    • Tree-Ring Society, President ( 2012 to present )
      Executive Council: Member-at-Large 2005-2006; Secretary 2006-2007; Vice-President 2008-2009, 2010-2011. President since 2012.
    • Association for Fire Ecology, Member ( 2008 to present )
      --, --
    • International Multi-Proxy Paleofire Database Advisory Board, Member ( 2008 to present )
      This Board advises about management of the fire-scar and sediment data that are archived at NOAA Paleoclimatology.
    • Society of American Foresters (SAF), Member ( 1983 to 1990 )


    Service and Teaching, 2006
    from Dr. James Speer, Director of the North American DendroEcological Fieldweek, in appreciation for your 6th year as a Group Leader for North American DendroEcological Fieldweek,
    Certificate of Merit, 2005
    For your extra effort in leading the Environmental Consequences Team for the Fuels Synthesis Project
    Certificate of Merit, 2003
    For outstanding civil rights efforts through your involvement in community and educational events during FY 2003 from the RMRS Civil Rights Committee. "
    Certificate of Appreciation, 2001
    In appreciation for your extra effort as Director s Representative during an especially busy year of program growth and transition from Director s Representative/ALWRI Director David Parsons
    Certificate of Merit, 1996
    For outstanding efforts in organizing the Restoration of Mixed-Oak Forests with Prescribed Fire Ecosystem Management Project from supervisor Charles T. Scott.

    Featured Publications


    Crotteau, Justin; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Jain, Terrie B.; Wright, David K.; Jenkins, Melissa; Keyes, Christopher; Nagel, Linda M., 2019. Initiating climate adaptation in a western larch forest
    Harley, Grant L.; Baisan, Christopher H.; Brown, Peter M.; Falk, Donald A.; Flatley, William T.; Grissino-Mayer, Henri D.; Hessl, Amy; Heyerdahl, Emily K.; Kaye, Margot W.; Lafon, Charles W.; Margolis, Ellis Q.; Maxwell, R. Stockton; Naito, Adam T.; Platt, William J.; Rother, Monica T.; Saladyga, Thomas; Sherriff, Rosemary L.; Stachowiak, Lauren A.; Stambaugh, Michael C.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Taylor, Alan H., 2018. Advancing dendrochronological studies of fire in the United States
    Crotteau, Justin S.; Keyes, Christopher R.; Hood, Sharon M.; Larson, Andrew J.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Wright, David K.; Egan, Joel M., 2018. Stand dynamics 11 years after retention harvest in a lodgepole pine forest
    Schaedel, Michael S.; Larson, Andrew J.; Affleck, David L. R.; Belote, R. Travis; Goodburn, John M.; Wright, David K.; Sutherland, Elaine K., 2017. Long-term precommercial thinning effects on Larix occidentalis (western larch) tree and stand characteristics
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Brewer, P.; Gross, W., 2017. Paleo-event data standards for dendrochronology
    Keyes, Christopher R.; Perry, Thomas E.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Wright, David K.; Egan, Joel M., 2014. Variable-retention harvesting as a silvicultural option for lodgepole pine
    Falk, Donald A.; Swetnam, Thomas; Kitzberger, Thomas; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Brown, Peter; Bigio, Erica; Hall, Matthew, 2013. A new North American fire scar network for reconstructing historical pyrogeography, 1600-1900 AD
    Anning, Alexander K.; Rubino, Darrin L.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; McCarthy, Brian C., 2013. Dendrochronological analysis of white oak growth patterns across a topographic moisture gradient in southern Ohio
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Farella, Josh; Wright, David K.; Hyp, Ian; Smith, K. T.; Falk, Donald A.; Arbellay, Estelle; Stoffel, Markus, 2013. External charring and fire scarring in three western conifers
    Arbellay, Estelle; Stoffel, Markus; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Smith, Kevin T.; Falk, Donald A., 2013. Fire-induced wounding elicits changes in the wood anatomy of North American conifers
    Smith, Kevin T.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Arbellay, Estelle; Stoffel, Markus; Falk, Donald., 2013. Macroanatomy of compartmentalization in fire scars of three western conifers
    Arbellay, Estelle; Stoffel, Markus; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Smith, Kevin T.; Falk, Donald A., 2013. Resin duct characteristics in the wood of fire-scarred North American conifers
    Hessl, Amy E.; Ariya, Uyanga; Brown, Peter; Byambasuren, Oyunsannaa; Green, Tim; Jacoby, Gordon; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Nachin, Baatarbileg; Maxwell, R. Stockton; Pederson, Neil; De Grandpre, Louis; Saladyga, Thomas; Tardif, Jacques C., 2012. Reconstructing fire history in central Mongolia from tree-rings
    Kaufmann, Merrill R.; Aplet, Gregory H.; Babler, Michael G.; Baker, William L.; Bentz, Barbara J.; Harrington, Michael; Hawkes, Brad C.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Jenkins, Michael J.; Kashian, Daniel M.; Keane II, Robert E.; Kulakowski, Dominik; McCaughey, Ward; McHugh, Charles W.; Negron, Jose; ; Romme, William H.; Shepperd, Wayne; Smith, Frederick W.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Tinker, Daniel; Veblen, Thomas T., 2008. The status of our scientific understanding of lodgepole pine and mountain pine beetles - a focus on forest ecology and fire behavior
    Lentile, Leigh; Morgan, Penny; Hardy, Colin C.; Hudak, Andrew T.; Means, Robert; Ottmar, Roger; Robichaud, Pete R.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Way, Frederick; Lewis, Sarah A., 2007. Lessons learned from Rapid Response Research on wildland fires
    Lentile, L.; Morgan, P.; Hardy, Colin C.; Hudak, Andrew T.; Means, R.; Ottmar, R.; Robichaud, Pete R.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Szymoniak, J.; Way, F.; Fites-Kaufman, J.; Lewis, S.; Mathews, E.; Shovik, H.; Ryan, K., 2007. Value and challenges of conducting rapid response research on wildland fires
    Young, Michael K.; Mace, Ethan A.; Ziegler, Eric T.; Sutherland, Elaine K., 2006. Characterizing and contrasting instream and riparian coarse wood in western Montana basins
    Gayton, Don V.; Weber, Marc H.; Harrington, Mick; Heyerdahl, Emily K.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Brett, Bob; Hall, Cindy; Hartman, Micahel; Peterson, Liesl; Merrel, Carolynne, 2006. Fire history of a western Montana ponderosa pine grassland: A pilot study
    Artman, Vanessa L.; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Downhower, Jerry F., 2001. Prescribed burning to restore mixed-oak communities in southern Ohio: Effects on breeding-bird populations
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Hale, Betsy J.; Hix, David M., 2000. Defining species guilds in the Central Hardwood Forest, USA
    Hines, Erin B.; Salick, Jan; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Hutchinson, Todd F.; Sutherland, Steve; Sutherland, Steve, 2000. Ethnoecology of Fire: An Experimental Approach in the Ohio Valley
    Boerner, Ralph E. J.; Morris, Sherri Jeakins; Sutherland, Elaine K.; Hutchinson, Todd F., 2000. Spatial variability in soil nitrogen dynamics after prescribed burning in Ohio mixed-oak forests
    Iverson, Louis R.; Prasad, Anantha M.; Hale, Betsy J.; Sutherland, Elaine Kennedy, 1999. Atlas of current and potential future distributions of common trees of the eastern United States
    Smith, Kevin T.; Sutherland, Elaine K., 1999. Fire-scar formation and compartmentalization in oak
    Hutchinson, Todd F.; Boerner, Ralph E.J.; Iverson, Louis R.; Sutherland, Steve; Sutherland, Elaine K., 1999. Landscape patterns of understory composition and richness across a moisture and nitrogen mineralization gradient in Ohio (U.S.A.) Quercus forests
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Iverson, Louis R.; Yaussy, Daniel A.; Scott, Charles T.; Hale, Betsy J.; Prasad, Anantha; Schwartz, Mark; Barrett, Hope R., 1997. Models of regeneration, tree growth, and current and potential ranges of tree and mammal species in the Eastern U.S.
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Grissino-Mayer, H.; Woodhouse, C. A.; Covington, W. W.; Horn, S.; Huckaby, Laurie Kay Stroh; Kerr, R.; Kush, J.; Moore, M.; Plumb, T., 1995. Two centuries of fire in a southwestern Virginia Pinus pungens community
    Yaussy, Daniel A.; Sutherland, Elaine K., 1994. Fire history in the Ohio River Valley and its relation to climate
    Sutherland, Elaine K.; Covington, W. Wallace; Andariese, Steve, 1991. A model of ponderosa pine growth response to prescribed burning
    Swetnam, Thomas W.; Thompson, Marna Ares; Sutherland, Elaine K., 1985. Using dendrochronology to measure radial growth of defoliated trees
    When trees are injured they develop physical and chemical boundaries around the injury wound to resist infection. Trees also grow new wood to close over the injured place. Injuries caused by fires result in fire scars and we use the patterns of scarring among many trees to understand when and how often fires burn.  This research helps to understand the biological process of fire scar formation and use it to improve fire history analysis.
    Lodgepole forest cut Tenderfoot Creed Experimental Forest
    Many lodgepole pine forests in Montana were historically a mix of ages and tree sizes as a result of mixed-severity fires. Now the forests have trees mostly the same size and crowns touch so that when fires burn, they burn as large and severe crown fires. This study looked twelve years after two patterns of thinning and burning, to see if the cutting patterns and regrowth could influence fire behavior. 
    We are developing a suite of tools (FHAES: the Fire History Analysis and Exploration System) to calculate the statistics and provide graphics used to describe disturbance – particularly fire – regimes and their relationship to climate. Other disturbances that can be described with these tools include insect infestations, avalanche patterns, flooding, and cold snaps.
    Bark-peeled ponderosa pine
    Native peoples throughout the northern hemisphere have made use of the nutritious inner bark of pine trees.  Bark-peeling creates distinctive scars on trees, a permanent indicator of this cultural modification.  Like any historical artifact, laws and regulations protect these culturally modified trees (CMTs). 
    Researchers are using existing long-term studies to answer questions about overstory and understory carbon accumulation in western larch forests.Four western larch stands were remeasured in the summer of 2015. Stand growth and carbon sequestration were evaluated by estimating the carbon pools of live trees, understory vegetation, dead woody material, and the forest floor (decomposing plant material).