RESEARCH & PUBLICATIONS



Critique of the historical-fire-regime concept in conservation

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In North America, decisions about how and when to apply prescribed fire are typically based on the historical-fire-regime concept (HFRC), which holds that replicating the pattern of fires ignited by lightning or preindustrial humans best promotes native species in fire-prone regions. This study found that the practice of inferring historical fire regimes for entire regions or ecosystems often entails substantial uncertainty and can yield equivocal results; ecological outcomes of fire suppression are complex and may not equate to degradation, depending on the ecosystem and context; and habitat fragmentation, invasive species, and other modern factors can interact with fire to produce novel and in some cases negative ecological outcomes. Although the HFRC is a valuable starting point, it should not be viewed as the sole basis for developing prescribed fire programs. Rather, fire prescriptions should also account for other specific, measurable ecological parameters on a case-by-case basis.