A pre-fire vegetation mapping project at the University of Wyoming’s Rogers Research Site (RRS) in southeast Wyoming will help future researchers, land managers and others assess changes in land cover and wildlife habitat at the mountainous site and surrounding lands.
The project is detailed in RRS Bulletin 4: “Vegetation Mapping of Rogers Research Site, north Laramie Mountains, Wyoming, Using High Spatial Resolution Photography and Heads-Up Digitizing.”
Bulletin 4 and others in the series can be downloaded at bit.ly/UWEpubs. Enter Rogers Research Site into the search bar.
“With good luck and fortune, the mapping work was completed prior to the 2012 Arapaho Fire,” said lead author Mathew Seymour. “Thus, our project will help forest managers and those conducting research in the area examine various vegetation as it existed pre-fire and whether post-fire habitats are transitioning back to pre-fire states or are trending toward alternative ecological states.”
The high-intensity wildfire burned ponderosa pine and other vegetation across nearly 100,000 acres in the area of Laramie Peak, including the 320-acre RRS.
The site was bequeathed to UW in 2002 by Col. William C. Rogers, who stated in his will that it be used, in part, for educational purposes and research relating to the improvement of forestry and wildlife resources.
The vegetation mapping work was completed by Seymour in 2006 while he was finishing two bachelor’s degrees at UW. His research and other studies at RRS are now being published in peer-reviewed bulletins by the Wyoming Agricultural Experiment Station (WAES), which manages the site in northeast Albany County.
“The vegetation map will assist researchers and those who manage private and public lands in the north Laramie Mountains regarding land management for socioeconomic and other benefits,” said Seymour, who went on to earn master’s and doctorate degrees at universities in Iceland and Switzerland before taking a postdoctoral research position in the Molecular and Fisheries Genetics Laboratory at Bangor University in Wales.
The map shows that in 2006, RRS was predominantly ponderosa pine forest (80 percent), with mixed grass and shrub lands (10 percent), quaking aspen (4 percent) and other features, including human development.
“When our map and an aerial image of RRS and surrounding lands taken the same year are compared to an aerial image taken in 2015, the dramatic effects of the Arapaho Fire on vegetation are easily seen,” Seymour said.
The lightning-caused wildfire occurred during an extreme drought, and it burned so hot it left many areas completely devoid of vegetation.
The bulletin is co-authored by Ken Driese, a senior lecturer in the UW Department of Botany who mentored Seymour during the mapping project, and WAES editor Robert Waggener.
Driese said the map will help researchers answer many questions about post-fire changes.
“How will shrubs and trees, including ponderosa pine, which once dominated the landscape, respond to the fire?” Driese asked. “Will trees return naturally in great numbers, or will the landscape remain dominated by grasses and shrubs because of climate change, changes in soil due to the fire’s intensity or the establishment of invasive species?”
Additionally, he questioned, “Can humans play a role in managing the soil and vegetation and, ultimately, their effects on wildlife, water and air quality?”
Preliminary findings from a ponderosa pine restoration study and pre- and post-fire soils research will be detailed in upcoming bulletins.
For more information about research at RRS and the bulletins, call John Tanaka at 307-766-5130 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researchers needing a high-resolution version of the bulletins or figures within the bulletins should contact the James C. Hageman Sustainable Agriculture Research and Extension Center at 307-837-2000 or email@example.com.