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Grand Teton National Park Report

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A major objective of the National Park Service is to preserve examples of natural features and processes that characterize the North American landscape. Fire is now widely recognized as a natural process in many ecosystems, but its management remains a controversial issue. Research on successional change following fire will contribute to improved fire interpretation and management. The Waterfalls Canyon (WC) fire was started by lightning in July 1974 and continued burning until December. Approximately 1414 ha were burned on the west side of Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park (GTNP) (Barmore et al. 1976). This fire was especially significant because it was one of the first large fires to occur in a National Park following the adoption of the revised fire management policies in 1972, allowing natural fires to burn in certain designated areas. Prior to 1972, the long­standing fire management policy was to suppress both natural and human-caused fires (Barmore et al. 1976). Considerable scientific and public interest was generated by the Waterfalls Canyon fire. For example, tourists in GTNP complained about the smoke which obscured views of the Tetons. For park scientists, the Waterfalls Canyon fire provided an opportunity to initiate studies to better understand and interpret the fundamental role of fire in GTNP. During the summer of 1975, Barmore et al. (1976) established a series of permanent plots to evaluate post-fire changes in vegetation and small mammal and bird abundance. In addition, baseline data were collected in 1975 describing the soils, streamwater chemistry, and insect populations. Permanent plots were established within two stands that burned in 1974: 1) a severely burned stand (forest floor burned exposing mineral soil), and 2) a moderately burned stand (forest floor mostly unburned). In addition, permanent plots were established in two adjacent sites, both unburned in 1974, but which appeared to be very similar to the (WC) burned area. One was a mature spruce-fir forest that had not burned for more than 100 years, and the other was a stand that burned in 1932. Important data was collected by Park scientists following the Waterfalls Canyon fire, with vegetation, bird and mammal data being collected in the four study sites in 1975, 1976, 1977 and 1983.