Human and climatic influences on wildfires ignited by recreation in national forests in WA, OR, and CA

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From 1992–2020, 50% of recreation-caused ignitions in these three states occurred on lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service. The mean annual number of recreation-caused ignitions on national forests in the three states during this period was relatively stable, about 500, whereas recreation-caused ignitions within other jurisdictions decreased by 40%. Improved understanding of the impact of human and climatic factors on recreation-caused ignitions could provide valuable insights for shaping policy and management decisions. We found that mean annual densities of recreation-caused ignitions on national forests were 7 times greater within 1 km of designated campgrounds than >1 km from campgrounds, although 80% of recreation-caused ignitions occured >1 km from designated campgrounds. Ignition density in campgrounds increased non-linearly with overnight visitor density; a doubling of visitor density was associated with a ∼40% increase in ignitions. Large (≥4 ha) recreation-caused wildfires, especially those ignited in designated campgrounds, tended to occur concurrent with drought and 1–2 years after anomalously wet conditions. These results suggest that accounting for drought in implementation of fire restrictions, and targeting wildfire-prevention awareness to recreational users outside designated campgrounds, might reduce the likelihood of recreation-caused ignitions.

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