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dr_wu002
06-21-2005, 03:43 PM
Some of the peaks we know and love (Chocoura, Height) were burned and are not "bald" as a result of nature necessarily. Others were burned and now nature is taking back the views (Hale, Starr King).

My question is, which mountains in the North East (ADKs, Whites, Greens etc.) are considered to have an "Alpine Zone" which is actually the result of a fire rather than mother nature. I'm wondering if there are any that either we wouldn't expect (say, Liberty maybe?) or are there ones that scientists/geologists/etc. suspect could be the result of pre-white mountain history burns? How about ledgy/bald summits on mountains like:

Tremont
Jackson
Caribou
Isolation
Davis
Pierce
South Twin
Bondcliff (I thought I read somewhere that this summit burned once before)

I assume the Presidentials (Northern Peaks, Washington, Monroe) are true alpine zones but perhaps someone could correct me if I'm wrong. As are Marcy, Algonquin, Haystack, Skylight, Katahdin, Mansfield etc. Anyone?

-Dr. Wu

adamiata
06-21-2005, 04:42 PM
Though not really in the Whites, Mts Cardigan, Monadnock, and Kearsarge (South) all have "alpine" zones as a result of fire. I do beleive the fires were intentionally set in an attempt get rid of wolves, and the like in the 1700s and 1800s.

lumberzac
06-21-2005, 04:47 PM
The bald summits of Rocky Peak Ridge and East Dix in the Adirondacks were both caused by fire. (I believe it was the same fire that burned both mountains)

sierra
06-21-2005, 05:40 PM
It is said that Monadnock was burned to kill wolves, but in some research I have done I find little to support this and I think its an urban legend.

funkyfreddy
06-21-2005, 05:51 PM
I'm not really sure about the mountains you list but I know that fire was used to alter the landscape by both Native Americans and colonials for different reasons. in the Catskills and the Shawangunks fire was used by berry growers to raze the underbrush and create more suitable ground for berries. Many of the ridges in the Hudson Valley area have been sculpted by fire repeatedly and intentionally.

There's a debate about the balds in the Smokey mountains as to whether they were created by nature or created by man. It is known that many of the eastern tribes used fire to create browse for game animals.

I'm wondering if there are maps available for the whites and ADK's that would show locations of past fires. It would be interesting to see....

sweeper
06-21-2005, 06:38 PM
Pemigewasset (Indian Head)

North (?), (Middle) Sugerloaf (Zealand area) As I remember from my youth

Wasn't Dickey and Welch burnt? -AMC guide talks about the stands of Jack pine on Welch that germinate only after a fire.

brianW
06-21-2005, 06:47 PM
According to "Annals of the Grand Monadnock" a fire in the early 1880's (1805 or before) killed the trees with the wind knocking them down. The "wolf driving" fires were from 1810-1820. There were also fire in the later parts of the 1800's. Forest fires were in genral not faught til the 1900's.

Just a note: Bald Rock on Monadnock was bare when the first europeans arrived in the area.

Other mountains are probally bare also from grazing of livestock. The Wapack Guide has a picture of Mt. Watatic and most of the northern slope is pasture.

bigmoose
06-21-2005, 07:20 PM
Add the Moats and the Baldfaces to the list.

lumberzac
06-21-2005, 07:38 PM
I'm wondering if there are maps available for the whites and ADK's that would show locations of past fires. It would be interesting to see....

The Adirondack Atlas has maps showing areas that were destroyed by fire, logged, or damaged by storms. The maps aren't highly detailed, but you can get a pretty good idea of what happened in different regions in the park.

forestgnome
06-21-2005, 07:42 PM
Cool thread ;)

Most of the south/east facing ledges were carved by glaciers.

I often wonder about the bald summits, if some were caused by naturally-started wildfires. On hot summer afternoons, I've seen lightning strike some very dry mountains.

dr_wu002
06-22-2005, 08:51 AM
I know about Monadnock, Cardigan, The Moats and whatnot. I'm interested in Bondcliff though -- I thought I read somewhere that it had burned.

Are the alpine zones on Garfield, Liberty, Flume and South Twin true alpine zones or the result of burns -- either recent history (1800's, 1900's) or prehistory.

-Dr. Wu

jjmcgo
06-22-2005, 12:46 PM
I don't know if you would consider the bald top of Mt. Everett in the south Taconics an alpine zone but it is believed to be fire-created rather than glaciated, although it is not certain. It's also believed that the fire cycle is about every 150 years and there is no recorded history of a burn, so conditions may be suitable for another, which would cause the pitch pines to produce fertile seeds.
It's a really interesting mountain. Here's a long discussion among scientists:
http://www.mounteverett.org/studies/12.pdf

mavs00
06-22-2005, 01:27 PM
The bald summits of Rocky Peak Ridge and East Dix in the Adirondacks were both caused by fire. (I believe it was the same fire that burned both mountains)

Cascade's rocky dome was also the result of fire, as was Hurricane. Similarly, the LONG open ridge (right Zac :) ) on Jay Mountain was caused by fire. The same one in fact (1903).

I've actually been doing some reading on the Jay Wilderness and Hurricane Primitive Area. Despite the fact that All the peaks in these areas are well under 4000', many have bald, open summits with great views. Since the lowest TRUE Alpine zone in the Adirondacks is on 4500+' Wright Peak, these peaks would have been denuded of vegitation by other means. In many cases, it was fire, of which, the 1903 fire was the worst.

Peaks like Jay, Saddleback (Jay Range), Slip, Peaked, Knoblock, the Soda Range all have bald domes (or primarily do). Additionally, as an added benifit, many are very "bushwhacker" friendly, as the woods tend to stay hardwood, to mixed hardwood/conifer right to the top. :cool:

Waumbek
06-22-2005, 07:56 PM
I'm interested in Bondcliff though -- I thought I read somewhere that it had burned.
Are the alpine zones on Garfield, Liberty, Flume and South Twin true alpine zones or the result of burns -- either recent history (1800's, 1900's) or prehistory.
-Dr. Wu

These are really good questions and surprisingly difficult to find answers to. I think the problem is that there's a different approach to "alpine zones" by botanists and geologists. (I'm neither, so this is just a hunch.) Botanists, the ones who write most about alpine and sub-alpine zones in NH, define them by what grows there. Geologists are more interested in etiology, what caused the lack of trees on various summits in the White Mtns.--harsh weather (true alpine) or fires (not true alpine). I'm guessing that so-called alpine or subalpine plants show up in high altitude locations that are tree-bare for both reasons, so a botanist might talk about an "alpine zone" on a summit that was burned bare of trees. But that's a guess.

In this respect, Dr. Wu is asking what I'm calling a "geological" question, what caused bare summits in the Whites. The only book I've seen that even partly addresses this question is an old and out-of-print favorite of mine, Preston and Kannair's White Mountains West (1979). They define "alpine zone" in the WMs as generally beginning about 4500, limited amount of soil, plant survival dependent upon water retention (waxy leaves) and wind protection, and so forth. They go on to say that "lesser summits, generally below 4000 feet, like Welch and Dickey . . . are covered with exposed ledges because of forest fires years ago. Subsequent rains washed off the thin soil layer so that the re-establishment of the of the forest cover on the bare ledges has been a slow process. However, it is not hampered by the weather, as is the case in the alpine zone."

To cut to the chase now, Dr Wu, Preston and Kannair say that in the western Whites there are four alpine zones: Franconia Ridge, Bondcliff, Moosilauke, Guyot. On Bondcliff the alpine zone begins just south of the top of Bondcliff and extends for about a mile north towards, but not including, Mt Bond itself, they write. This is unusually low treeline, they say, 4100 to 4300', as opposed to the typical 4500' in the Whites.

They then list "mountains with open summits" in the western Whites: Bond, Flume, Garfield, Hale, S Kinsman, Liberty, S. Twin, Welch. These would not be true alpine zones in their estimate.

So, that's what Preston and Kannair think.

dr_wu002
06-23-2005, 07:20 AM
To cut to the chase now, Dr Wu, Preston and Kannair say that in the western Whites there are four alpine zones: Franconia Ridge, Bondcliff, Moosilauke, Guyot. On Bondcliff the alpine zone begins just south of the top of Bondcliff and extends for about a mile north towards, but not including, Mt Bond itself, they write. This is unusually low treeline, they say, 4100 to 4300', as opposed to the typical 4500' in the Whites.

They then list "mountains with open summits" in the western Whites: Bond, Flume, Garfield, Hale, S Kinsman, Liberty, S. Twin, Welch. These would not be true alpine zones in their estimate.

So, that's what Preston and Kannair think.
Excellent answer! Thank You (actually, thank you everyone for the responses).

From what I read in Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman's book on the 4000'ers, there is an alpine zone on the eastern slopes of Bond. I wonder if this is the result of burns or just overlooked by the book you mention. I'll have to go back and reread the source that mentioned fires on Bondcliff.

Now, question about "mountains with open summits" -- these should be separated into open summits that burned: Hale, Welch-Dickey and open summits that are "natural": Bond? Flume? Liberty? I wonder if any of these summits (Garfield) burned at one point many moons ago and basically the harsh weather has prevented additional growth from coming back.

-Dr. Wu

SherpaKroto
06-23-2005, 07:44 AM
Many of the summits on the northern end of Baxter State Park near South Branch CG are still bald due to fires, I believe in the early 1900's. It takes a long time to recover, but in the meantime makes some small mountains yield some incredible views.

lumberzac
06-23-2005, 07:58 AM
The summit of Noonmark in the Adirondacks is still bald as a result of Colvin burning the top in the late 1800’s while doing his survey work.

arghman
06-23-2005, 08:02 AM
Another way of looking at this, is whether the vegetation is recovering (from the disturbance caused by an "unnatural" fire) or whether it's in a state of equilibrium (though, to echo jjmcgo's comment, note that for certain areas like the NJ Pine Barrens, "equilibrium" includes cycles of fire). Certain plants in the alpine zone are very specialized and chances are, if you see them, it means the above-treeline status is probably natural. An example would be cushion-forming plants like diapensia or alpine azalea; if you encounter large patches of them, that would indicate not only that it's probably been open and exposed for hundreds of years, but that the microclimate in that vicinity is not conducive to less alpine-adapted plants like spruce, fir, blueberry, mountain cranberry, labrador tea, etc. -- otherwise those plants would be out-competing the cushion-forming plants. Some of the heaths are kind of in a gray area: black crowberry is one that is a good example of an alpine plant that takes a long time to grow into large mats, but it may be a temporary species on the way back to a vegetated summit.

A good botanist could probably also tell minimum age of bare bedrock from the lichens (which I assume would be removed directly by fire if it is hot enough to remove soil, or would not be there if the soil disappears as a result of post-fire erosion).

The Baldfaces are another set of peaks where there was a fire in 1903. The vegetation is coming back, slowly, though I wonder whether the ledges on South Baldface were always above treeline.

The climactic treeline is somewhere in the 4000'-4500' range (I remember reading 4500' somewhere) but a very steep area, or one which is exposed to lots of wind, or one which is boggy (poorly drained and poor nutrients), would be more likely to be bald at a lower elevation.

Waumbek
06-23-2005, 08:29 AM
Excellent answer! Thank You (actually, thank you everyone for the responses).

From what I read in Steve Smith and Mike Dickerman's book on the 4000'ers, there is an alpine zone on the eastern slopes of Bond. I wonder if this is the result of burns or just overlooked by the book you mention. I'll have to go back and reread the source that mentioned fires on Bondcliff.

Now, question about "mountains with open summits" -- these should be separated into open summits that burned: Hale, Welch-Dickey and open summits that are "natural": Bond? Flume? Liberty? I wonder if any of these summits (Garfield) burned at one point many moons ago and basically the harsh weather has prevented additional growth from coming back.

-Dr. Wu

Re Preston and Kannair on the eastern slopes of Bond, I went back to the book to look at their maps, which indicate alpine zones with shaded grey areas. The book is faded but their map doesn't show an alpine zone on the eastern side of Bond. This doesn't mean that there isn't one there, just that they didn't fail to mention it in their prose description. Their map shows the Bondcliff alpine zone more to the eastern side of the trail than the western, however.

As for the bare summits of Liberty, Flume and Garfield, I wouldn't be surprised if they'd burned and failed to revegetate. There was such extensive logging, with high slash piles set alight by sparks from the logging trains that went deep into the Pemi, that the whole area had numerous huge fires. Franconia Notch State Park resulted from an effort to spare that area from intense logging and, more importantly, the inevitable accompanying fires. (Hence all those fire towers too.)

The place to find an answer about fires on those summits might be in the history of the "Save the Notch" campaign ca. 1920 and of Henry's logging operations in the Pemi prior to that.

Here's record of a 1908 4800 acre fire on Mt. Liberty (http://www.nhoem.state.nh.us/mitigation/summary_of_state_wildfire_burns.htm) but it doesn't say whether it burned off the top. Gotta go earn a living now. I'll read for it tonight.

HAMTERO
06-23-2005, 09:14 AM
There is a good amount of information on fires in the Whites in "Logging Railroads of the White Mountains" book published by the AMC. I'm sure Steve Smith has copies in Lincoln.

funkyfreddy
06-23-2005, 11:15 AM
This is a good thread on one aspect of the natural history of the Northeast. It's interesting to learn what role fire has played in our landscape and how we got some of our views from the top. Please continue.

Waumbek
06-23-2005, 04:42 PM
Logging was going on on the west side of Liberty but it wasn't the 1908 fire that burned off the top; that fire went no higher than the current tentsites. An account of an 1876 ascent of Liberty by Prof. Pickering describes it as a tough battle through the scrub at the top but he finally reached a small area of open summit--like standing on one tooth of a saw, he says. It would have to have been an earlier fire if fire is the reason at all for Liberty's rocky summit.

Papa Bear
06-23-2005, 05:15 PM
Logging was going on on the west side of Liberty but it wasn't the 1908 fire that burned off the top; that fire went no higher than the current tentsites. An account of an 1876 ascent of Liberty by Prof. Pickering describes it as a tough battle through the scrub at the top but he finally reached a small area of open summit--like standing on one tooth of a saw, he says. It would have to have been an earlier fire if fire is the reason at all for Liberty's rocky summit.OTOH it depends on what he meant by "small area". Pehaps that pinnacle was as bare as it is today. The higher southern one might well pass for a "tooth on a saw":

http://gallery.backcountry.net/albums/papabear_2004_Pemi/acb.thumb.jpg

It's such a steep slope on the west one could imagine those rock crags being unvegitated with perhaps scrub growing closer up behind on the west slope.

Maybe the open rock surrounding that "saw tooth" is from hiker's boot erosion! It would be nice to see a picture of this summit say 40 or 50 years ago, past the logging/fire era but before the mass hiking era.

Waumbek
06-23-2005, 09:16 PM
Belcher's Logging Railroads of the White Mountains quotes several contemporary descriptions of the devastating 1907 fire that started on the east side of Owls Head sometime before August 17th. By August 27th, "'Mt. Bond [was] swept clean, the easterly slope of Mt. Garfield burned over, and the southerly slope of Mt. Guyot fiercely burning with flames eating up Mt. Lafayette.'" Another report from August 29th notes that fire broke out again on Mt. Guyot. A later account put the fire "'nearly to the summit of Garfield . . .'" Belcher notes inaccuracies in some of the reports but all of them seem to agree that the Mt. Bond summit was burned bare in 1907. Lightning set off the blaze, which was then fed by the huge piles of slash from the J. E. Henry logging operations.

dr_wu002
06-28-2005, 11:30 AM
Belcher's Logging Railroads of the White Mountains quotes several contemporary descriptions of the devastating 1907 fire that started on the east side of Owls Head sometime before August 17th. By August 27th, "'Mt. Bond [was] swept clean, the easterly slope of Mt. Garfield burned over, and the southerly slope of Mt. Guyot fiercely burning with flames eating up Mt. Lafayette.'" Another report from August 29th notes that fire broke out again on Mt. Guyot. A later account put the fire "'nearly to the summit of Garfield . . .'" Belcher notes inaccuracies in some of the reports but all of them seem to agree that the Mt. Bond summit was burned bare in 1907. Lightning set off the blaze, which was then fed by the huge piles of slash from the J. E. Henry logging operations.
Could a botanist tell if the plants growing on a particular summit (ie. Bondcliff) are the result of an advantageous species moving in after a burn or a naturally occurring alpine plant species? Bondcliff is such a low alpine zone (4265') considering it's large summit area. Higher elevation Mountains (such as Carrigan - 4680') do not have nearly the alpine-type areas like Bondcliff.

-Dr. Wu

arghman
06-28-2005, 11:48 AM
Could a botanist tell if the plants growing on a particular summit (ie. Bondcliff) are the result of an advantageous species moving in after a burn or a naturally occurring alpine plant species?Probably, if you could find one familiar with various indicator species (don't look at me, I have no formal training; I got turned off from biology after all those dissections of formaldehyde-preserved animals) From NH Natural Heritage Inventory's report on Alpine and Subalpine Vegetation of the White Mountains (Sperduto and Cogbill, 1999):


SUMMARY
The vegetation of New Hampshire’s Presidential Range has been the subject of considerable study over the past 150 years. In contrast, alpine and subalpine summits elsewhere in the White Mountains have received relatively little attention from botanists, ecologists, and land managers, with a few notable exceptions. This report considers alpine and subalpine vegetation throughout the White Mountains, and is part of a broader systematic inventory of the floristics, plant communities, environmental attributes, and human factors associated with alpine vegetation in the northeastern United States. In addition, we seek to inform stewardship of alpine species and communities by identifying their locations, significance, and associated management issues.

We have documented 35 peaks outside the Presidential Range in New Hampshire with alpine or subalpine vegetation, all of which are at least one acre in size, and most of which are greater than five acres. Twenty-four of these peaks are over 4000' elevation, and 11 are lower but generally higher than 3500'. All contain heath/krummholz communities, and more than half have some dwarf shrub/sedgerush meadows or barrens typical of higher alpine areas. Some of these peaks have naturally rugged summits with essentially no soil. Franconia Ridge, Bondcliff, Guyot, Baldface Ridge, Moosilauke, Cannon Mountain, the Mahoosuc Range, and the Shelburne-Moriah vicinity contain the great majority of the acreage, with more than 600 acres total. Of these, only Franconia Ridge and South Twin exceed climatic treeline at 4900 feet. We have also documented numerous lower elevation cliffs, talus slopes, river gorges, and rocky ridges that have certain alpine or subalpine affinities. There are approximately 70 plant species in alpine areas of the White Mountains that are either rare in New Hampshire or restricted to alpine and subalpine habitats. There is a distinct decrease in the diversity of alpine-restricted species from larger and higher peaks to lower and smaller peaks. More than 200 other species of vascular plants are documented from alpine peaks and other habitats with alpine affinities. Many of these are found only in areas protected by latemelting snowpacks above treeline or on subalpine or lower elevation ledges. Overall plant composition relates well to elevation range, area, and range of soil moisture conditions.

Alpine zones typically consist of complex community mosaics in which patches of vegetation cover or grow among a matrix of bedrock, stone, talus, and/or gravel with or without thin organic soil layers. We have defined five major groups of alpine and subalpine plant communities from the data set, plus a sixth group of montane vegetation transitional to subalpine heath/krummholz found on lower ridges and ledges. Each of these major groups can be divided into two or more finer-scale communities for a total of 13 alpine/subalpine types (15 total with montane types). Some of these communities and constituent species are restricted to the higher peaks, while others are restricted to lower subalpine peaks.

Human use and impacts vary considerably among peaks. Most retain significant areas of largely natural vegetation with localized zones of trampled vegetation, soil erosion, and unofficial trail development. A few peaks are trail-less and remain intact, while several have been heavily trampled or reduced to gravel or bedrock with little hope of recovery at current recreational levels. Fires have certainly modified the extent of total open habitat on some subalpine peaks, although most were likely open to some extent prior to European settlement. At most summits, some combination of stewardship efforts will be needed to retain or stabilize existing natural vegetation, or in some cases to rehabilitate denuded areas.



INTRODUCTION
The alpine zone of New Hampshire occurs at high elevations above treeline in the White Mountains where severe climatic conditions prevail and a community of low mat-forming shrubs, sedges, rushes, grasses, mosses, and lichens dominate. The flora is most similar to that of the eastern Canadian Arctic and coastal barrens. Sixty-two percent of the plant species in the
Presidential Range are restricted to alpine tundra. Among these, Prenanthes boottii (Boott's rattlesnake-root) is endemic to northeastern U.S. alpine areas, Potentilla robbinsiana (Robbin's or dwarf cinquefoil) is endemic to the White Mountains, and Geum peckii (mountain avens) is endemic to the White Mountains and several stations in Nova Scotia, giving New Hampshire and
other New England tundra a distinct floristic signature. Permafrost and frost phenomena characterize parts of the Presidential Range, the largest and most diverse of the region’s alpine areas. The vegetation is exposed to high winds, a short growing season, low temperatures, heavy cloud cover and fog, high precipitation and fog interception, and mostly well drained soils with
low nutrient availability and high organic matter content.

At a global scale, treeline follows a latitudinal gradient corresponding approximately to the 10-12o Celsius July isotherm, and, consequently, declines in elevation with increasing latitude (Cogbill and White 1991; Cogbill et al. 1997). In New Hampshire, climatic treeline occurs at approximately 4900' elevation. However, alpine and subalpine vegetation can be found at lower elevations due to local compensating factors (e.g. wind-exposed ridges and summits with shallow, poorly developed soils, or fire histories). These lower elevation alpine areas are generally smaller and have communities with fewer alpine-restricted species. Figure 1 shows the distribution of alpine and subalpine peaks and ledges in New Hampshire.

Some subalpine summits or ridgelines may have been originally opened by fires of natural or human origin, sometimes pushing the ecosystem over the "resiliency threshold" (Bormann and Likens 1979) where recovery to original forest could take centuries due to loss of soil. Other examples, particularly many subalpine sites with severe exposures, appear to have been open for
at least many centuries based on the earliest accounts, although fire may have altered the proportion of forest versus open and woodland area (Whitney and Moeller 1982).


1. High elevation and large alpine peaks (Presidential Range, Franconia Ridge, Moosilauke, Bondcliff) -
48 species are largely restricted to these summits, ridges, and ravines, including Rhododendron lapponicum
(Lapland rosebay), Geum peckii, Phyllodoce caerulea (mountain-heath), and Luzula spicata (spiked
woodrush).
a. Alpine Garden and ravines which include Cassiope hypnoides (moss bell-heather), Epilobium
hornemannii (Hornemann's willow-herb), Arnica lanceolata (arnica), and other snowbank or wet-site species.
b. Drier ridges and summits which lack these snowbank species.

2. Lower or smaller alpine and subalpine peaks - These peaks typically lack all of the 48 species from higher
peaks but contain up to 22 other alpine/subalpine restricted species. However, some have several rare species
which are absent from higher peaks, including Calamagrostis lacustris (pond reed bent-grass), Paronychia
argyrocoma var. albimontana (silvering), Pinus banksiana (jack pine), Geocaulon lividum (northern
comandra), and Oryzopsis canadensis (Canadian rice-grass).
a. Peaks that still contain Carex bigelowii, Diapensia lapponica, and sometimes Solidago cutleri, Hierochloe
alpina, and Salix uva-ursi.
b. Peaks that lack most or all of the above species, but still usually have Juncus trifidus, Agrostis mertensii
(boreal bentgrass), Minuartia groenlandica (mountain sandwort), Vaccinium boreale, and Huperzia
selago (northern fir clubmoss).
c. Lower peaks with little else but Vaccinium uliginosum, Empetrum nigrum or more frequently E.
atropurpureum, Vaccinium vitis-idaea, and Cetraria islandica.

3. High elevation cliffs, landslides, and exposed notches - Few if any alpine species are present in these areas
except Juncus trifidus and Agrostis mertensii.