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Region 4 Science Partner Program: Landscape restoration on the Boise Basin Experimental Forest

July, 2016

RMRS researchers Terrie Jain, Kate Dwire, and Travis Warziniack are partnering with managers on the Boise National Forest (BNF) and scientists at the University of Idaho to develop, implement, and evaluate place-based adaptive management strategies with the goal of improving the resilience of Northern Rockies ponderosa pine stands to fire and other disturbances. The Boise Basin Experimental Forest (BBEF) project provides a unique opportunity to implement and evaluate a wide range of ponderosa pine management approaches using a management-science partnership framework, implement treatments at a landscape scale, and gain insights into improvements in the project planning and decision-making process. Early in the project development, the Idaho Ranger District and RMRS team engaged collaborative groups, special interest groups, other scientists, and timber industry representatives through a series of field trips to promote open conversation and idea sharing. These engagements will continue.

RMRS scientist Terrie Jain recently co-led a fieldtrip with Idaho City District Ranger Brant Petersen to provide stakeholders of the Boise Basin Experimental Forest a glimpse of the past, current, and future research
RMRS scientist Terrie Jain recently co-led a fieldtrip with Idaho City District Ranger Brant Petersen to provide stakeholders of the Boise Basin Experimental Forest a glimpse of the past, current, and future research


Since 1994, uncharacteristic wildfires have burned close to 50 percent of the BNF, including in 2016, the Pioneer Wildfire that burned approximately 190,000 acres. This adaptive management-science project provides an opportunity to evaluate ecological, social, and economic aspects of different forest treatments and improve forest resilience to fires and other disturbances.

The BBEF Project surrounds Idaho City, located 40 miles NE of Boise, Idaho, is 11,500 acres, and includes BBEF and 3,000 additional acres administered by the BNF, Idaho City Ranger District. RMRS administers the BBEF as an outdoor laboratory designated to provide science-based results to inform forest management. BBEF is an ideal location to provide science-based information associated with 1) developing silvicultural management strategies; 2) installing long-term studies to characterize change over time and identify adaptive management opportunities; and 3) providing science-based information on potential ecological benefits, and conservation education, training and demonstration areas to stakeholders, managers and scientists. This project takes advantage of the BBEF as a living laboratory to 1) demonstrate and study conditions that are suitable for restoring or managing dry ponderosa pine forests; 2) produce lessons learned on the impacts and values of applying an adaptive management-science approach for planning, decisions, implementation, and monitoring; and 3) use a science-management partnership to address management relevant questions.


This project will examine a range of conditions that represent low, medium and high spatial diversity in vegetation structure and composition that are created by prescribed fire and commercial and non-commercial vegetation treatments across 11,584 acres split between the Boise National Forest (3,000 acres) and the Boise Basin Experimental Forest (8,584 acres). The goals of this partnership are to advance knowledge on landscape-level forest restoration in ponderosa pine forest types, practical riparian fuel treatments, and social and economic effects of different treatment prescriptions. To accomplish this, the project will:

  • Apply silvicultural treatments (either mechanically or through prescribed fire) using adaptive management and decisions based on research results for the next twenty years.

  • Enable the ability to implement the specific timing of treatments as designed in a study plan.

  • Allow flexibility to implement silvicultural research that meets unforeseen science and management needs in a timely manner.

  • Create demonstration areas illustrating conditions of a diversity of management strategies for creating disturbance resilient ponderosa pine forests by working with the Rocky Mountain Research Station, Boise National Forest, and the Intermountain Region.

  • Ensure that fire suppression activities are complimentary to research objectives and do not adversely affect past, current, and future research.

  • Create landscape conditions that diminish crown fire hazard so as not to adversely affect BBEF as a research site.


Research Questions: Six broad research questions associated with the project have been developed and detailed study plans will be developed to accompany each of the following:

  • What are the ecological, social, and economic impacts and values associated with creating forest condition representing three levels of forest landscape heterogeneity?

  • What are the economic, social, and ecological impacts from altering canopy openings and surface fuels in Riparian Conservation Areas within the upland forest matrix?

  • What treatments and forest conditions provide opportunities for cavity and snag creation and release aspen for wildlife benefit?

  • How do dry mixed-conifer forests under different managed conditions respond to shifts in precipitation and temperature regimes?

  • What management techniques are applicable and how should they be applied to introduce diversity in forest structure when tending sapling and pole sized trees?

  • What social/ecological constraints limit the use of prescribed fire to maintain fire-resistant forests?

Possible Constraints:

  • Social constraints may include smoke limitations, prescribed fire escapes, Idaho State regulations, and urbanization or WUI influences on prescribed burn windows.

  • Ecological constraints may include recognizing that prescribed fire does not mimic wildfire and that prescribed fire occurs in a different season and under more ameliorating weather conditions. In addition, the proximity to Idaho City prevents the use of wildfire as a treatment option. Fire suppression will always be a priority.

Project Benefits:

  • Create forest conditions to reduce the risk of stand-replacing wildfire and create forest conditions that would favor a mixed fire regime dominated by surface fire.

  • Provide fire suppression opportunities in BBEF, particularly if wildfire threatens Idaho City, without compromising past, ongoing, or future research.

  • Produce a variety of (varying levels of forest heterogeneity) forest structures and conditions that will provide research opportunities today and into the future (decades to centuries).

  • Protect and maintain past, current, and future research.

  • Work in partnership with National Forest Systems, Idaho City Ranger District, and Boise National Forest to enhance the research integrity of BBEF and produce relevant research results to inform management decisions.

Key Findings

The BBEF project is in the planning stages and is currently going through NEPA analysis. Preliminary observations include:

  • The level of forest complexity can be achieved by diversifying treatments across different tree sizes.

  • Tree-well burning can limit mortality in old ponderosa pine.

  • White-backed woodpecker home ranges are attracted to stands created on BBEF that were implemented in 2007 and contain a diversity of tree sizes and forest structures.


Katherine Lee - Univ. of Idaho
Dennis Becker - Univ. of Idaho
Brant Peterson - Boise NF
John Wallace - Boise NF
John Riling - Boise NF
Kristine Lee - Boise NF
Andrew Nelson - Univ. of Idaho