Fire Ecology Field Trip

Hikers pause on trail in recent burn area facing a speaker in sunglasses
Hiking through a healthy understory in a recent burn area


Fire can be a powerful force of change that impacts a forest in surprisingly beneficial ways. It also poses a particular challenge to park managers, whose goal is to maintain natural systems while protecting humans, cultural and historic resources and park infrastructure. Glacier's cultural resources chronicle the evolving history of human activities, interactions, and experiences in the American West, that reveal changes in societal attitudes about land and its uses.

Grades: 4–5
Locations: Fish Creek Area and St. Mary
Duration: 4.5 hours, view our Fire Ecology Field Trip Schedule to see a basic outline for the day
Group Size: 60 students, 2 groups of 30 students
Skills: Communicate, Observe, Identify, Model
Vocabulary: Adaptation, coniferous, dichotomous, disturbance, fire scars, fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, heat), interrelationships, tree cookies
Essential Questions:

  • What impact does fire have on a landscape?
  • What views do people have about fire?
  • How have Native Americans felt about fire?
  • How does the National Park Service protect and preserve the landscape if fires occur and are even started on purpose?
National and State Standards:
Montana State Standards
  • MT.SCI.K-12.1.1 Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate the ability to design, conduct, evaluate, and communicate results and reasonable conclusions of scientific investigations.
    • A proficient student will be able to identify a question, determine relevant variables and a control, formulate a testable hypothesis, plan and predict the outcome of an investigation, safely conduct scientific investigation, and compare and analyze data
  • MT.SCI.K-12.3.2 Students, through the inquiry process, demonstrate knowledge of characteristics, structures and function of living things, the process and diversity of life, and how living organisms interact with each other and their environment.
    • A proficient student will be able to explain how organisms and systems of organisms obtain and use energy resources to maintain stable conditions (e.g., food webs, photosynthesis, respiration)

Next Generation Science Standards
MS-LS1-6. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.



Students will be able to:

  • Tell what national parks protect and one reason Glacier National Park was established.
  • Identify coniferous trees with a dichotomous key.
  • Give 3 examples of interrelationships in the forest.
  • Give an example of an effect the forest fire has had on plants and on wildlife.
  • Tell how a fire might increase plant reproduction.
  • List the 3 parts of the fire triangle (fuel, oxygen, heat) and how each contributes to a fire.
  • Give examples of adaptations that plants and animals have to survive fires.
  • Explain how we can understand past fires by examining tree cookies and fire scars.
  • Discuss how fires are different and act in varying ways depending on environmental factors like wind, fuel, terrain, and make predictions about how a fire with certain conditions might burn.
  • Discuss 2 organisms who not only can survive fire, but who actually thrive after a fire.
  • Name 1 important role of fire in a natural system.

Field Trip Logistics

Teachers wishing to have their students participate in the fire ecology field trip should plan to arrive in the park by 9:30 - 10 am and stay until 1:30 - 2 pm. Everyone must be prepared to be outside all day and ready to hike 2 miles on fairly level terrain.


Reserve Your Trip

Visit the Scheduling & Guidelines page to find the reservation form as well as tips for a successful day in the park.

If you have questions, email or call the Education Specialist at 406-888-5837.


Preparing for Your Trip

How to Dress for the Fire Ecology Field Trip pdf (permission slip courtesy of J. Summerscales, Columbia Falls Jr. High)

Students that spend time preparing for their visit get more out of a field trip to the park. Activities post-visit also help to reinforce information learned during the trip.

MUST READ! Follow this specially designed Fire Ecology Field Trip Lesson Plan (448 KB pdf)

Suggested activities and supplementary materials:

Last updated: November 10, 2017

Contact the Park

Mailing Address:

PO Box 128
West Glacier, MT 59936


(406) 888-7800

Contact Us