Fire regimes of mountain big sagebrush communities – Review from FEIS

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This synthesis summarizes information available in the scientific literature on historical patterns and contemporary changes in fuels and fire regimes in mountain big sagebrush communities. This literature suggests that presettlement fires in the sagebrush biome were both lightning- and human-caused. Peak fire season occurred between April and October and varied geographically. Wildfires were high-severity, stand-replacement fires. Fire frequency estimates range from decades to centuries, depending on the applicable scale, methods used, and metrics calculated. Fire frequency was influenced by site characteristics. Because mountain big sagebrush communities occur over a productivity gradient driven by soil moisture and temperature regimes, fire regimes likely varied across the gradient, with more frequent fire on more productive sites that supported more continuous fine fuels. Sites dominated by mountain big sagebrush burned more frequently than sites dominated by Wyoming big sagebrush, because the former tend to be more productive. Mountain big sagebrush communities adjacent to fire-prone forest types (e.g., ponderosa pine) may have had more frequent fires than those adjacent to less fire-prone types (e.g., pinyon-juniper) and those far from forests and woodlands. Most fires were likely small (less than ~1,200 acres (~500 ha)), and large fires (>24,000 acres (10,000 ha)) were infrequent. Historically, large fires in big sagebrush were most likely after one or more relatively wet years or fire reseasons that favored growth of associated grasses, allowing fine fuels to accumulate and become more continuous.