The Question: What are the combined effects of ungulate browsing and prescribed
fire on montane shrubland communities?
Montane shrublands, dominated by bitterbrush, sagebrush, and wax currant, are an important component of Rocky Mountain National Park because they provide food and shelter for several bird and small mammal species. Elk and deer also intensively browse these shrub communities. The Estes Valley elk population has grown to a historically high level of approximately 3,000 individuals. The Valley’s deer population is estimated to be 600 animals. In recent years, prescribed fire has been used along the Colorado Front Range to restore natural fire regimes and to reduce fuels in lower montane ecoystems including ponderosa pine savannah and associated shrub communities. Shrublands are often found at the wildland-urban interface (WUI), an area of special concern to fire managers due to the risk of a wildland fire moving into adjacent towns. Park decision-makers wanted to understand the effects of intensive browsing by ungulates combined with fire on shrubland communities.