The Cottonwood Fire consumed about 185 square kilometers in the Tahoe and Toiyabe National Forests near Loyalton and Sierraville, CA in 1994. The wildfire reached a population of one of the rarest pines in North America, Pinus washoensis H.Mason & Stockw. (Washoe pine), in the Babbitt Peak Research Natural Area (RNA). A field survey and census was conducted in 1996 to find, map, and count living and dead P. washoensis individuals, and to assess the effects of the fire on the population. Although the fire reached most of the P. washoensis stands, 763 living reproductive individuals were found and less than 5.2% mortality was observed. The fire's intensity declined as it crossed the Bald Mountain ridge and mostly consumed understory vegetation and litter in the P. washoensis stands. The fire had the potential to devastate or eliminate this rare population, but instead, a combination of stochastic, vegetative, and topographic controls spared the P. washoensis stands and appears to have had beneficial effects for this population. All age classes of P. washoensis except seedlings were found in the Bald Mountain Range. The lack of seedlings is surprising because the two years between fire and survey had high precipitation. No sign of hybridization with other yellow pine species was evident. While it is promising that the stands of this rare pine survived the Cottonwood Fire, prospects for the continued persistence of this population are not good until there is a reproductive year that provides many recruits.
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Vol. 65 • No. 4