Repeat Photos

Grand Teton and its surrounding areas are fortunate to have many historic photos that show what the landscape and vegetation looked like in the late 1800s and early 1900s. George Gruell, a biologist for the Bridger-Teton National Forest, repeated many of these photos in the 1960s, and Mike Merigliano, a local ecologist, has been repeating many of them again since 2017.

This dataset provides an accessible, visual way to see changes in vegetation over time—and especially the effects of fire. Explore each pair of old and recent photos below, with notes that describe a few things to look for in each photo.
 
Lower Berry area from Steamboat Mountain, Grand Teton National Park
A female skier dressed in early 1900s garb stands in front of a snowy, mountainous, forested landscape above a lake. The same scene, without the skier, now has more variety of forested and unforested land.
1930, William Lawrence (courtesy Jackson Hole Historical Society and Museum, 2007.0009.003)
2019, Mike Merigliano (taken on April 18)
This photo series, from 1930 and 2019, shows the head of Jackson Lake and the mouth of Berry Creek, where there have been a series of overlapping fires over the past century. Here are a few things to look for:
  • The far ridgeline at left is the south side of Webb Canyon. It burned in the 2000 Wilcox Fire, and again in the 2016 Berry Fire (to see exactly how these fires burned and overlapped, explore a map on the Fire History page). These two fires in such a short time have converted what was once mature forest to a more open, shrubby hillside. There are still many downed trees in the area, though they’re covered in snow in this image. (Explore our Climate Change and Fire page to learn more about short interval fires.)
  • If you look one ridgeline to the right, you’ll see the east ridge of Owl Peak, which burned in 1987 and in 2016, resulting in a similarly open hillside. Further to the right, you can see where mature forest burned in 2016—so there are still standing dead trees remaining. 
  • In the 1930 image there is a somewhat recent burn, perhaps from the 1880s, on the upper right area of the photo, which is called Elk Ridge. Vegetation grew in before the photo was taken, but the burn area is still visible. An early map of “merchantable timber” from the 1880s, the 1898 USGS Teton Forest Reserve Survey by T.S. Brandegee, showed areas of burned trees, and it notes a contemporary fire in this area.
  • Harem Hill is at the west (righthand) shore of the lake, and it’s named for the elk that gather and breed there in the fall. The 2016 Berry Fire burned patchily on the north side of the hill, nearer to the viewpoint, though much of the foreground hill and valley remain dense forest. 
  • According to the Brandegee survey that showed fires from the 1800s, there was a burn from that time on the east bank of the lake (bottom left of the photo) that perhaps stimulated the growth of the aspen grove visible there. In 2016, part of that same area burned in the Berry Fire, though some mature conifers remain standing. 
  • Note the change in lake level from 1930 to 2019. Jackson Lake was dammed prior to 1930, raising lake levels and flooding what was once the meandering Snake River. It took a few decades for the trees in the riparian corridor to die and disappear, so they’re still visible in the 1930 photo.



 
View east from Mt Randolph, Bridger-Teton National Forest
A few live trees stand in the foreground, in front of a slope that has burned recently. Forested hills and mountains are visible in the background. A forest of mature trees covers slopes in the foreground and more distant mountains. A few dead trees stand in the foreground.
1906, Ben Sheffield (Grand Teton National Park; 3974)
2017, Mike Merigliano (taken on October 30)
This photo series, taken in 1906 and 2017, shows over one hundred years of regrowth from a fire in the late 1800s.
  • The 1906 photo shows a recent fire that burned roughly 5-15 years before the photo was taken. The late 1800s seem to have been an active fire period in the area, as surveyors arriving in Jackson Hole in the 1880s reported smoky air and many recently-burned areas. The fire shown here was likely small (perhaps a few hundred acres), which is common at high elevations due to cooler, wetter conditions and natural fuel breaks between more spaced-out trees. 
  • The mature, mixed conifer forest visible in 2017 has many dead trees, likely from insect outbreaks. Mountain pine beetles attack whitebark pines, Douglas fir beetles affect Douglas firs, and spruce budworms affect both spruces and firs. Though some insect outbreaks in recent years have been intensified by climate change, these insects are native to the ecosystem. Most insects prefer mature trees, so this disturbance opens up the canopy and allows younger trees to compete for light and water. 
  • The large whitebark pine at left in 1906 may be the same one that is dead at left in 2017. Whitebarks grow slowly and can be very long-lived, if they’re not killed by some disturbance.
  • The once-patchy meadows from 1906 are starting to fill in (see the left midground and the right foreground and midground). Over time, conifers can creep into what once were open meadows.  



 
View of Open Creek from Junction Hill, Teton Wilderness, Bridger-Teton National Forest
A man stands on a promontory with binoculars, looking out over a forested valley with mountains on either side and a river flowing down the center. A man stands on a promontory with binoculars, looking out over a forested valley with mountains on either side and a river flowing down the center.
1893, T. Jagger (taken on September 18; US Geological Survey, 131)
2018, Mike Merigliano (taken on September 19)
This photo set, from 1893 and 2018, shows an area of mature forest that burned in the 1988 fires and has regrown over the last thirty years. 
  • The Mink Fire burned the valley bottom in the central part of the image in 1988. (Learn more about the 1988 fires on the Fire History page.) Note the contrast between the smaller, homogenous thirty-year-old trees and the mature forest surrounding them. Lodgepole pines, with their serotinous cones, are well adapted to regenerate rapidly and densely after a fire. 
  • In the 1893 photo, there are many dead trees visible in the valley bottom. A variety of insects and diseases (like mountain pine beetles, Douglas-fir beetles, and spruce budworm) have been present in this ecosystem for millennia, and many of them prefer older trees. Particularly in mature stands, trees compete for resources and the weaker ones can be vulnerable to pests. In some ways, an insect or disease outbreak that kills trees is a disturbance like any other, such as an avalanche, a fire, or a landslide, which changes the forest and provides different types of habitat. 



 
Soda Fork of the Buffalo Fork (view of Terrance Mountain), Bridger-Teton National Forest
A mountain slope is entirely covered in mature forest, except for a few steep cliff jutting out. The same landscape has had a recent fire, burning many of the trees, whose dead trunks still stand mostly upright.
1912, H.B. Maris (US Forest Service; 72)
2019, Mike Merigliano (taken on July 26)
This photo pair, from 1912 and 2019, shows the effects of a recent burn on a mature, mixed conifer forest. The fire was in 2012, seven years before the later photo was taken. 
  • This area was a dense mixed conifer forest in 1912. After burning in 2012, the regrowth includes small green shrubs, wildflowers, and small tree seedlings. This vegetation would be visible in a color photo, though it does not show up well in black and white. Tree seedlings are still quite small (less than a foot or two high), so they aren’t visible from the photopoint. 
  • Spruce-fir forests like these take longer than lodgepole to regrow after a fire because they don’t have the special adaptation of serotinous cones (which open with a fire) that lodgepole pines do. Any lodgepoles would come back first, with spruce and fir seedlings regenerating more slowly. These species need to be re-seeded from the nearest mature trees, some of which are visible along the drainage at the bottom of the photo or on the more distant hills. Whitebark pines are found at higher elevations, and they generally sprout after a few years from seeds buried by birds and squirrels. 
  • This fire burned in a very remote area, so only a few firefighters were on scene to monitor its growth. A webcam helped managers keep an eye on the fire as well, so they would be ready if the fire crossed a pre-determined trigger point (known as a “Management Action Point”) that would cue suppression actions. A cabin in the area was protected with fire-resistant wrap and sprinkler systems, and it survived the fire.



 
Crystal Creek, Gros Ventre Wilderness, Bridger-Teton National Forest
A valley extends out from the viewer, with a mix of forest and meadow. The forests within the same valley have grown taller and thicker, with trees beginning to fill in the meadows.
1911, H.B. Maris (US Forest Service; 6772A)
2017, Mike Merigliano (taken on July 19)
This photo pair, from 1911 and 2017, shows a landscape that has not seen fire in over a century. This could be due to fire suppression. 
  • For much of the 20th century, firefighters worked to put out as many fires as possible, which only changed here in the 1970s. Perhaps there were no fire starts in this area, but if there were, it is likely that they were all suppressed.
  • Even so, other disturbances are visible on the landscape. There are a few dead trees in the 1911 photo, and many more in 2017. The dead trees in this image are mostly Douglas Fir. Elsewhere in the Greater Yellowstone, dead whitebark pines are common after a major outbreak of mountain pine beetles that peaked around 2008 and a warm, dry period in the early 2000s. These combined to kill an unprecedented number of whitebark pines at high elevations, and an estimated 50% of trees in the region were attacked.



 
To learn more, explore other pages on fire ecology, Grand Teton's fire history, and fire media, or return to the wildland fire homepage.

Last updated: October 31, 2019

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