Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Systems Ecology

Department or School/College

W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation

Committee Chair

Andrew J. Larson

Commitee Members

R. Travis Belote, Phil E. Higuera, David L.R. Affleck


wilderness fire, wilderness ethic, fire management, forest structure, mixed-severity fire regime, mixed-conifer forest


University of Montana

Subject Categories

Natural Resources and Conservation | Natural Resources Management and Policy


Wilderness areas, because they are managed to be “untrammeled by man,” often offer the best approximation of intact, undisturbed ecological patterns and processes. In the case of wildland fire, this means that wilderness areas often provide the only landscapes where fire has been managed to play an active, ecosystem role. As a result, these wilderness areas offer unique lessons both in terms of wildland fire management as well as the ecological consequences that result from this management approach. For these reasons, an in-depth history of fire management in the wilderness areas of the Northern Rocky Mountains is provided to highlight the lessons learned from these long-running programs where fire has been managed for resource benefit. The four decades of wilderness fire management across three wilderness areas revealed that wildland fire management is most likely to occur when land managers possess a strong commitment to the untrammeled nature of wilderness, when fire management personnel are well versed in long-term fire management strategies and skill sets, and when strong lines of communication are in place, both across administrative boundaries and between land managers and the public. From this history and these lessons learned, recommendations were developed for strengthening wildland fire management for resource benefit across the western U.S., including outside of Congressionally designated wilderness. These recommendations include bolstering the workforce capacity and incentive structure related to fire management for resource benefit, improving communication tactics regarding wildland fire management objectives, and cultivating an ecological fire ethic within land management agencies. Finally, using data collected from mixed-conifer forest plots in the Bob Marshall Wilderness of Northwest Montana, I investigated the forest stand structures that result from an active fire regime. I then identified the pathways to development for the identified stand structures, as well as the drivers of conversion of forest to non-forest structure following fire and the role of fire in creating within-structure class heterogeneity. From these analyses, I produce a data-driven conceptual model of stand structure development under an active fire regime. The results of these studies, taken together, point to the importance of wilderness areas as valuable sources of information on ecosystem processes and patterns, such as wildland fire and forest structure.


© Copyright 2020 Julia Kittleson Berkey