Fire History

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Paleorecords of sage steppe communities

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Paleovegetation studies show that even prior to anthropogenic influence, sage steppe communities were dynamic, and in some cases, susceptible to replacement by other vegetation communities (including forests) under changing climatic conditions.


Great Basin Wildfire Forum: The search for solutions

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This document includes scientist contributions and group recommendations that came from the Great Basin Wildfire Forum held at the University of Nevada in September of 2007.  In the first section, the editors provide background and overview of the major issues of the Great Basin as they relate to the wildfire forum discussions. The next section is an edited version of the individual contributions of the scientists based on their oral presentations and written contributions.

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Fire Effects Information System Website (FEIS)

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The FEIS database provides access to more than 1,200 species reviews, 150 fire studies, and is now producing fire regime syntheses. This suite of products provides information on plant, lichen, and wildlife species’ life history, ecology, and relationship to fire and detailed descriptions of site characteristics, burning conditions, fire behavior, and fire effects. This spatially searchable database was developed by the USDA-FS, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory, Missoula, Montana.

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The fire frequency-severity relationship and the legacy of fire suppression in California forests

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This study evaluated how divergence from historic (pre-Euroamerican settlement) fire frequencies due to a century of fire suppression influences rates of high-severity fire in five forest types in California. With some variation, results suggest that fires in forest types characterized by fuel-limited fire regimes (e.g., yellow pine and mixed conifer forest) tend to burn with greater proportions of high-severity fire as either time since last fire or the mean modern fire return interval (FRI) increases.

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Examining historical and current mixed-severity fire regimes in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of western North America

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In this study, researchers compiled landscape-scale evidence of historical fire severity patterns in the ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests from published literature sources and stand ages available from the Forest Inventory and Analysis program in the USA. The consensus from this evidence is that the traditional reference conditions of low-severity fire regimes are inaccurate for most forests of western North America. Instead, most forests appear to have been characterized by mixed-severity fire that included ecologically significant amounts of weather-driven, high-severity fire.

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Fire history of a mixed conifer woodland at the ecotone between the southern Great Basin and Mojave desert

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This research brief reports that the cessation of fire use by Indians and a shift to climatic conditions less favorable to fire are both explanations for decreased fire frequency over the past century and a half in the southern Great Basin and Mojave desert ecotone.


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Historic fire frequency in mountain big sagebrush communities of the eastern Great Basin and Colorado Plateau

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This report found that big sagebrush recovery following fire over a broad regional scale suggests an average recovery time of 25 to 35+ years. However, there was much variation in recovery rate associated with the timing of precipitation relative to the particular fire event. We found that precipitation in the pre-fire growing season was positively related to post-fire recovery of mountain big sagebrush, and that precipitation in the late winter following fire was similarly positively related to recovery rate.

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SageSTEP – Sagebrush steppe treatment evaluation project

Visit SageSTEP website.

SageSTEP is a long-term multidisciplinary experiment evaluating methods of sagebrush steppe restoration in the Great Basin.

You can find and access information on this project’s:

  • Land management treatments
  • Treatment effects on vegetation and fuels; soils and biogeochemistry; water runoff and erosion; wildlife and insects
  • The economics and human perspectives of management treatments
  • Association with climate change
  • Research findings thus far and project future
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Synthesis of knowledge: Fire history and climate change

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This synthesis includes 9 chapters covering: the current status of climate change science; the importance of fire regimes for understanding climate change impacts; the interrelationships among ecosystems, climate and fuels; the importance of understanding variability, change, scale and pattern for interpreting climate-fire interaction; fire history and climate change from an ecosystem perspective; scientific progress we can expect in the upcoming decade; some recommendations for managers for using fire history to inform their decision making under 21st Century climate change, and concluding thoughts.

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Managing fire and fuels in a warmer climate

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This paper provides a historical perspective on fire in the Pacific Northwest. A warmer climate could bring more fire to the westside of the Cascade Range where summers are typically dry and will probably become drier. We can also expect longer fire seasons. The biggest concern for the future will be an increase in extreme weather events, which can lead to conditions that produce large and rapidly spreading wildfire.

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