Fire heats up forest study |

Fire heats up forest study

Kurt Hildebrand, Tribune News Service

Most studies on the effects of fires on the forest are done after the fact.

But, happenstance has given scientists at the University of Nevada, Reno an opportunity to study the Tahoe basin forest before and after last year’s Gondola fire.

University researchers are studying 10 acres of forest just below Heavenly Ski Resort. UNR professor Wally Miller said the July 3 fire damaged trees on roughly half the site.

“The fire cut a swath right through the middle of the plots,” he said.

Because the blaze burned right through forest that was already under study, scientists have a good baseline from which to study the effects of the fire.

“We never really have preburn data,” he said. “We happened to have a year studying that section of forest. We’d done a number of biomass inventories and collections of soil samples. That’s kind of the neat thing about this. You can’t predict where a fire is going to burn. We were just in the right place at the right time.”

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Miller said he remembered watching the fire on television and knew there was an opportunity to observe what happens after a fire.

“Just three weeks after the fire there was a tremendous hail and rain storm that washed massive amounts of ash into a downslope riparian area,” Miller said. “It filtered out a lot of the stuff before it hit the Lake.”

Miller has taught at UNR for 30 years and has studied the Lake Tahoe Basin for 15 years. He said he hopes funding will hold out long enough to do long-term studies at the site.

“Our intent is to study the site five years down the road and see how the system recovers over time,” he said.

“Some of the trees were burned more severely than others,” he said.

Support for the study comes from the Nevada Agricultural Experiment Station and the U.S. Forest Service Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.