Since 2012, the NFF has funded 15 wildfire reforestation projects on Lolo National Forest in Western Montana, planting more than 830,000 trees on approximately 3,500 acres.

Lolo National Forest spans two million acres across Western Montana and provides habitat for recreationists and wildlife alike. Home to iconic predators like grizzly bears and wolves that need space to roam, the Forest is surrounded by other National Forests and the Flathead Indian Reservation. It also happens to encircle the NFF’s headquarter town of Missoula, Montana, making it an easy favorite to see our projects in action.

Planting a ponderosa pine seedling on the Rice Ridge Fire burn area (Photo: Dave Gardner Creative).

Unfortunately, the Lolo is also the site of several major wildfires over the past few years. The NFF has funded 15 projects on the Lolo, most since 2018, and all have planted trees for wildfire recovery. These efforts equate to approximately 830,000 seedlings and 3,500 acres of reforested habitat.

The NFF has supported 15 projects on Lolo National Forest since 2012, all for wildfire recovery.

One such wildfire was the Rice Ridge Fire of 2017. The lightening-caused fire began near the western Montana town of Seeley Lake, burning more than 160,000 acres and filling the air with intense smoke. The smoke was so bad that particulate measurements reached beyond a recordable level on air quality monitoring equipment. More than 66 percent of the fire occurred on the Lolo, with the severity of the fire varying across the burn area.

Planting at the base of a whitebark pine burned in the Rice Ridge Fire, Lolo National Forest (Photo: USDA Forest Service).

Since the fire, the NFF has funded three Rice Ridge Fire reforestation projects, including two in 2021. Ponderosa pine, western larch, and whitebark pine seedlings were planted on areas burned with high severity in the fire. These native species were selected by the U.S. Forest Service for their resilience and ecological benefits.

Ponderosa pine and western larch are both fire-adapted trees that are not susceptible to Douglas-fir beetle, a harmful bark beetle that generally attacks Douglas-fir trees. The whitebark pine seedlings will help restore a critical whitebark population on high elevation areas affected by the fire. The whitebark that were here showed some resistance to white pine blister rust, a disease caused by an introduced fungus, and one of the many threats to whitebark pine as a species. The fire burned at such an intensity that it killed most of these seed-producing whitebark pines, leaving an unlikely chance for natural regeneration. Thanks to our partners at the Forest Service and their work to conserve whitebark pine on National Forests, seeds from the killed whitebark trees had been collected prior to the fire and were available to begin restoration efforts.

Ponderosa pine seedlings growing at the site of the 2020 Rice Ridge project on Lolo National Forest.

Like many National Forests in the West, high-severity fire is an increasing hazard on the Lolo due to warmer, drier conditions caused by climate change and decades of fire suppression. The NFF will continue to plant trees for wildfire recovery on National Forests.

You can help! Support reforestation efforts like these through our Wildfire Reforestation Fund. Every $1 donated plants one tree on a National Forest affected by wildfire.

Funding for wildfire reforestation on Lolo National Forest in 2021 was made possible by our generous individual donors and small business and corporate partners, including Ford, REI, Black Forest, Caudalie, and The Kendeda Fund. Thanks to their support for 50 Million For Our Forests, more than 220,000 trees were planted on nearly 1,000 acres of Lolo National Forest in 2021.

Header and thumbnail photos by Dave Gardner Creative.

National Forest Foundation