HELENA – After a devastating wildfire season, experts are looking at ways to limit the impact climate change can have on the summer blazes.

On Monday evening, Dr. Steve Running, professor of global ecology at the University of Montana, presented options for dealing with climate change and wildfires.

Running said climate change is resulting in longer summers and shorter winters and those factors are linked to the severity of the fire season.

He said current methods to reduce fires like forest thinning are costly and instead that material from forests should be used as part of a larger bioenergy system that could generate power and heat for nearby cities.

Story continues below

“This fire issue is going to do nothing but get tougher. We’re going to need to have some new ideas and I like to think that these bioenergy systems might be a way to do some restoration work,” Running said.

Monday’s presentation was the first of four this month as the part of the Last Chance Audubon March Natural History Lecture series. The lectures run on Mondays in March at Montana WILD starting at 7 p.m.

See blow for details on upcoming events.

March 12 – Restoration of Montana’s Fire-Dependent Forests
Stephen Arno and Carl Fiedler will discuss ecology and restoration of Montana’s fire-dependent forests. Stephen Arno earned a PhD in forestry and plant science from University of Montana in 1970. He retired from the Fire Science Lab in Missoula in 1999 as a research forester. He has practiced restoration forestry on family Ponderosa pine forest for forty years. Carl Fiedler retired from the University of Montana Forestry School in 2007 after attending grad school, serving in the U.S. Army, and working at the USFS Intermountain Research Station. Fiedler and Arno have co-authored three books on forest and fire management.

March 19- Birds and Fire
Kristina Smucker will take us on a virtual tour through burned forests to discover how the bird community changes following restorative wildfires. Birds are amazing for many reasons, one of which is the diversity of habitat niches they have laid claim to, including burned forests. Many bird species depend on high severity wildfires, like those Montana experienced last summer, to create the habitat and food resources they need to survive. Kristina Smucker is a wildlife biologist for Montana FWP Great Falls and has extensively studied the impact of wildfires on bird habitat.

March 26 – Elk and Wildfire in the Bitterroot Valley
Kelly Proffitt will describe evaluation of elk forage quality and post-fire changes in forage quality in the Bitterroot Valley of west-central Montana. Examining summer and winter forage quality helped to achieve the primary goal to evaluate how landscapes with varying post-fire successional stages influence elk nutritional resources. Results highlight the important effect of wildfire on the distribution and abundance of elk nutritional resources and demonstrate that elk nutritional carrying capacity likely varies over time with cariation in fire history and management practices. Kelly Proffitt, a wildlife biologist with Bozeman FWP office, has spent several years documenting the effect of wildfire on elk populations in the Bitterroot.